Tag Archives: crime writing

Crossing Genres

My Exploration into Crime Writing

They say you should write what you read, but what if you love two distinctly different genres? I fell in love with romance from an early age, devouring Johanna Lindsay’s novels featuring strong, stubborn men and feisty damsels in distress, as well as an unhealthy number of Mills and Boon and racier novels like Lace and The Thorn Birds. I lived the heroines and daydreamed about finding such a man. It seemed obvious to me that one day I’d write my own romance novel.

Then as I matured, I moved on to crime. I read a Sydney Sheldon that my parents had in their bookcase and I was hooked. I sped through all of his books, then went on to Robert Ludlum, Michael Connolly, David Baldacci and the list continues…

Funnily enough, when I finally sat down to pen my own book, it was romance that I tried first. I signed up for a romance writing short course and loved it. I was addicted. After many false starts I finally finished a 50K word romance novel – and boy was I proud of it. I knew it wasn’t a work of art, but it was a fine starting point. It motivated me to write harder, learn more about the romance writing craft, delve into conflict, relationships and resolutions. I devoured every book I could find on the topic. I joined the RNA and went through the New Writer’s Scheme. Words cannot express how valuable that lesson was for me. Eventually I got a romantic suspense novel published and self-published some of my older works, that I’d reworked. I was a bona fide romance author. Woo-hoo!

Then the inkling began… If I could write romance, surely I could conquer crime thrillers too? My reading tastes became more crime oriented over the years and now I rarely read romance anymore. I’d been writing romantic suspense for a few years, so I was ready.

I outlined a suspense novel, tentatively, after reading in-depth about creating suspense, conflict in crime novels and analysing all the hundreds of crime novels I’d read in the last ten years. Then I outlined it a second time, and a third. I left the outline for a while and wrote another romance. Then went back to it and fleshed it out, worked on some of the more complicated plot points and ironed out some creases in the story. Now I was ready to put pen to paper.

It took me three months to finish the first draft. I wrote every day for about 3 hours. That was the only time I had available. Luckily, I’m a fast typist and if the story is flowing I can hit 6000 words per day with relative ease. I sent the draft to my mother, who is a big crime reader too. She made some valid points and I reworked the manuscript a second time, smoothing the rough edges and building in deeper conflicts, past traumas and adding tension.

I think the hardest part for me was the plotting. With romance, the story is more character driven. So while there is a plot, it’s the personalities of the characters that drive the story forward. While this is true to a certain extent in crime, a good, well thought out, intricate and clever plot is worth it’s weight in gold. The idea behind the story that hasn’t been done a thousand times before – that’s what really got to me. I laboured over the plot for ages in the outline, slept on it, researched certain angles and added more layers. This is an art in itself and is way more difficult that I expected.

When it came to writing the novel, layering on the suspense, foreshadowing and building tension required a great deal of thought. Often, I’d reach a point in the book, and go back and add in some foreshadowing earlier in the novel before continuing. Or I’d set something up and then it wouldn’t materialise… and I’d have to go back and rework that section.

On the flip side, the development of the characters came easily to me. Their past traumas, the psychology of the villain, the developing love interest between the main characters were all things I’d done before, practiced and got right. I felt this was a strength that I’d carried through from writing romance.

The danger, of course, is adding too much romance into a crime novel – and this is something I am aware I may have done. Old habits die hard. But since this is my first attempt, I’m not being too critical of myself. My second thriller, set in the United Kingdom, will be grittier as I get a handle on the tougher nature of crime novels and the lack of demand for romance. I’ve already outlined it and am waiting for the moment to sit down and let it take me on it’s journey.

What I’ve Learned:

1.     Writing romance will set you up nicely for developing characters in crime novels. Your additional insight into what makes people tick will give your characters depth and hidden layers that will be useful in other genres.

2.     Building suspense is a multi-layered process and (in my opinion) impossible to get right in one draft. As your story changes and develops, tension will escalate, but foreshadowing and plot points will need to be reworked.

3.     Plotting is crucial to a fast-moving story. There can’t be any holes, and to drive a 80K word story, it has to be complicated or intricate or else it won’t sustain the novel. Plot twists are hard to get right, as so many things have been done already and you don’t want your reader finding the book predictable.

4.     Reading thrillers and analysing what other successful writers do is a worthwhile pursuit. I’ve made notes on countless other books and learned from them. Be your own teacher, if you want to try out another genre.

5.     Give it a go. As a storyteller, there is no reason why you can’t tackle another genre, especially if you read it and enjoy it as well. I took ages to work up the confidence to write my first thriller, but I’m so glad I did.

UNDERCURRENT

BY LOUISE ROSE-INNES

UNDERCURRENT is the new suspense novel by Louise Rose-Innes, and is currently under review with various publishers.

Sign up to Louise’s newsletter to be notified of it’s release date.

Ex-special forces private investigator, Munro Crane, is forced to betray the man who saved his life in order to see justice served.

A seemingly innocuous assignment leads Crane into a web of murder, deceit and betrayal where he must question everything he believes in.

Jim’s Writing Masterclass

James-Patterson-006After seeing so many internet adverts pop up on my screen about James Patterson’s Masterclass, I felt like the universe (or the God of Google’s Search Algorithms) was trying to tell me something.

So eventually (after a relaxing two week break on a Greek island recharging my batteries), I succumbed and downloaded the class.

Let me say outright that for me, it was money well spent. Jim, as I now think of him, shares a great deal about his writing process… What works for him, what makes him more efficient, plus he gives us heaps of useful advice to incorporate in our own writing or “tricks of the trade” as he calls them.

These little gems are what makes our writing easier, faster and just plain better. I listened to the entire masterclass in one day, scribbling away on my notepad, pausing only to fetch my son from school, and making supper. I felt like the tips kept on coming. The hard part, I think, is remembering to implement all of this stuff in my manuscript and writing process. Even now, while I’m well and truly into writing my next book, I keep going back to those notes I made, to remind myself of the advice he gave.

As he says, the more you write, the better you’ll get, and building good habits now will help you improve faster. So I’m focusing on my writing process, and trying to implement as many of Jim’s tips as I possibly can.

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He covers things like what it takes to write. Do you have the passion? It’s okay if you don’t, but that just means you aren’t cut out to be a writer, and your talents probably lie elsewhere.

He talks about how he finds ideas for his novels, and how to throw it all together in an engaging plot. This was a big section for me. I scribbled furiously as he talked about plot lines and how to keep the reader turning those pages.

With any complex novel, be it crime, or romance, or literary fiction, there is always going to be an element of research. Jim tells us how to research effectively, and how to incorporate this into our writing.

The outline is a big deal for Jim, and many other authors I’ve listened to or read about. The more complex the plot, the more essential the outline. An author needs a road map to refer to along the way, and Jim shows us how to do this effectively.

Characters are a big part of any novel. For romance, they are the driving force. The characters are what the reader relates to. They share their experiences and laugh with them, and cry with them. So Jim’s notes on creating memorable characters were extremely useful for me.

Other chapters include dialogue, creating suspense, and editing, as well as those all-important first lines that have to hook the reader. He covers marketing and promotion at the end, which although is important, shouldn’t become the focus of our work. The most powerful marketing tool you’ll ever have, is your book.

I feel I’ve truly benefited from doing Jim’s Masterclass and, in my opinion, even if you get nothing from the course content, it is worth it for pure inspirational value. The day after I finished the course, I sat down and wrote 4000 words in one sitting. James Patterson is motivational and his love of his craft shines through.

Here’s a link to James Patterson’s Masterclass if you want to check it out – https://www.masterclass.com.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a quote from James Patterson:

“Keep that passion alive. It’s going to drive you through the hard times, and really make you enjoy the good times.”

Have you listened to Jim’s Masterclass? If you have, I’d love to know your opinion? Did you feel it was worth the money spent? What great advice did you get out of it? Let us know in the comments below.

 

 

Turning to Crime

This weekend I attended the Write on Kew literary festival. What a beautiful venue for it. The weather cooperated too. It was a stunning afternoon in south west London, as I made my way through Victoria Gates into the great botanical gardens. The lecture theatre took a little finding, but I got there in the end, after a detour that saw me admiring a gaggle of waddling Egyptian Geese and the remarkable board-walk borders, as they are locally known.

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Turning to Crime was a talk hosted by Mark Lawson, and included esteemed crime writers Sophie Hannah, Stuart Prebble and Paula Hawkins. The authors revealed what made them ‘turn to crime’. I was most interested in Paula Hawkins, as she wrote romantic fiction under a pseudonym before penning this year’s runaway bestseller, The Girl on the Train.

I found the talk amusing and interesting, with some great insights that I’ve listed below.

There seems to be a trend in crime writing at the moment to explore the psychological thriller. Normal motives for murder, like sex and money, are no longer enough; authors are turning to deeper, more psychological motives, like paranoia, self doubt and pathological conditions.

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The “unreliable narrator” also seems to feature strongly in new crime fiction. Paula’s book features an alcoholic who has blackouts as her main narrator, which has the reader (even the character herself) questioning if what she is seeing is the real thing. Sophie explores pathological lying, where the character truly believes what she’s seen is the truth. There has even been instances where the narrator is the killer… but there was some debate over whether this is satisfying to the reader. The reader, it seems, likes to trust the narrator, and as Sophie pointed out, sometimes it is better to have a reliable narrator in a world where nothing makes sense. Food for thought.

There was some discussion around red herrings and the overuse of them to the point where the reader is totally confused. Alternatively, as James Patterson once said, red herrings can’t be so convincing that the reader closes the book thinking, “well, that was SO predictable.” There is a fine line between convincing the reader and still maintaining that shadow of doubt.

An interesting topic of conversation revolved around the use of modern technology in novels. While the mobile phone makes it hard for anyone to be out of touch, it can also be used to a writer’s advantage, in so far as tracking is concerned. Likewise with DNA testing, which can make a who-dun-it much easier to solve, it can also be used as a plot device.

Finally, the discussion around US crime drama, with deeply flawed characters like Dexter and Breaking Bad, was interesting, as Stuart said it was unlikely that they would have been excepted for British TV when they first came out, as the characters weren’t ‘likeable’ enough. So they discussed the impact of likeable characters in crime fiction, and how important is it really, for the reader to ‘like’ the characters in a book?

All in all, a very interesting talk, and money well spent.

If anyone has any of their own insights into crime writing, please let me know in the comments below.