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.
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.