In this month's blog post for Popular Fiction Writers Group, I'm going to summarise the key aspects of crime novels that we discussed and why they're important elements of fiction.
What type of crime novel do you want to write? Below are the some of the most popular subgenres:
1. Cosy mystery - stories of amateur detectives where violence is described in very little detail. Generally involves a small town setting where the detective uses powers of observation and deduction to solve the crime.
2. Private investigator - stories of big city detectives/PI's who experience explicit violence and readers are taken through the dark underbelly of the city.
3. Police procedural - realistic and accurate story involving police detectives. The story's told in an authentic setting, where readers are taken into squad rooms, morgues, courts, and to crime scenes. Also involves personal problems of police detectives.
4. Legal thrillers - stories set in the legal world after the crime is committed and an arrest is made. Characters include lawyers and judges and plots are centred around legal proceedings.
5. Medical thriller - stories set in the medical world with a medical mystery. Settings include hospitals or smaller practices. Characters are doctors or nurses. Plots are based on situations that are unique to medicine and medical research, such as mysterious diseases.
6. General suspense - the protagonist is thrown into the aftermath of the crime. Usually, the hero is an ordinary person who either stumbles across the crime and is then caught up in it. They may need to prove their innocence to police or simply become the object of the criminal's desire ... and soon to be the next (hopefully almost) victim.
Plot is key to a crime novel and the action needs to keep moving. The crime should also be sufficiently violent, which is why murder's are usually popular. Kidnapping, rape, drugs, arson, or something as destructive may also suffice. But no one wants to read 300 pages about petty crime as the tension is unlikely to be high enough without something else influencing the story.
Generally, the crime, detective, and culprit should all be introduced very early in the book. The crime should also be believable, plausible, and give the reader satisfaction upon finally solving it, rather than be left with 'that doesn't make sense' or any other form of let down. The crime should also be solved only through rational methods as stumbling across evidence or solving it through a dream or good luck may leave the reader feeling a little let down. Remember, the reader is trying to solve the crime too, hopefully trying to get it before the detective, so give them clues and let them enjoy the story. So don't try to fool the reader with accidental or supernatural solutions.
And above all else, always do your research and make sure that the villain is capable, motivated, and emotionally able to commit the crime.
Red herrings are a plot device used to mislead or distract the reader. This can be a clue that leads the reader in the wrong direction. While it shouldn't 'fool' the reader, it should give them momentary thought that they've discovered the answer ... before you take that away and they're left realising they had it wrong.
To do this, red herrings need to be closely intertwined with the plot, making it 'too good to be true'. You may either consider red herrings when plotting your novel, or may indeed find ways to include them during the editing stage, which is when I generally identify places to use them.
This literary device is key to every genre as it's used to create expectation with readers. Foreshadowing is letting the reader know something is about to happen without giving the story away. Sometimes, this is second draft stuff, but that doesn't mean you can't foreshadow in your first draft. Identify key aspects of your novel that you may be able to hint towards. In crime writing, this can easily be dropping hints of to who the villain is without giving it away. Create a sense of foreboding to set the tone and increase tension. Remember, foreshadowing is all about feelings. You want your reader to associate positive or negative emotions with characters or events. One of my favourite ways to foreshadow is with the weather. If it's dark and raining in my book, it's more than likely that something bad is about to happen. Or it's just the season and nothing bad is about to happen at all. To improve your foreshadowing, highlight examples as you read novels and learn how your favourite authors do it.
If there's going to be a crime, then someone had to commit it. But the most important thing to remember is come back to the basics of character. Give your villain a goal and motivation. Why did they commit this crime? What led them to it? How did they do it?
As stated before, the villain needed to be capable of committing the crime. And if it hadn't been an accident, then the villain needs to believe that his actions and motivations were valid and just.
Also, for a general suspense or cosy mystery, it will increase tension and make your story a better read if the villain is someone who is already in your protagonists life. They just don't know that they're the villain. Therefore, the next most important thing is that the villain may not necessarily be evil ... or might just appear so in regular life but have a dark side they keep hidden. Personally, I love these types of villains - the guy next door type who happens to be a serial killer, the kindly old gentleman who sits at the bar but is actually a rapist. These are the villains that your readers have trouble picking, yet usually give very satisfying endings.
Again, thank you for visiting my blog.
The next Popular Fiction Workshop topic is Creating Characters.
Rachel is an aspiring writer of romantic fiction and romantic suspense. She is the facilitator of the Townsville Writers and Publishers Centre's Popular Fiction Writers Group. The above post was constructed through topics Rachel and her group discussed at their monthly meeting.
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