Monday, April 25, 2011

Putting the Crime in Crime Fiction

Often in crime novels, particularly in mysteries, the reader never witnesses the actual crime that is the subject of the story. Of course, there’s often good reason: showing the crime may very well remove most, if not all, of the mystery. Some mystery writers get around this by writing a prologue and keeping the details of the crime just vague enough to keep readers guessing. But there is a trend in crime fiction toward eliminating prologues – many editors prefer their authors to jump into their story by introducing the main character, usually a professional or amateur investigator.

The fact that the criminal act in crime fiction – usually a murder – takes place off screen may lead some aspiring writers to dive into their stories without first giving much thought to the villain and his villainous deeds. In my experience as both a writer and reader of crime fiction, this is a mistake. The crime itself – what James N. Frey, author of How to Write a Damn Good Mystery calls “the plot behind the plot” – is one of the most important events in any mystery. Whether you use an outline or write by the seat of your pants, the subject crime of your story should be vivid in your mind before you draft the first sentence of Chapter One.

I recommend writing the scene in which the crime takes place, even if you don’t intend to use it in your story. Why? Well, for one, it’ll help you play fair with the reader. While creating your mystery, you’ll need to insert clues throughout, evidence clever readers will pick up on, even if they don’t figure out the ending. By writing the crime scene beforehand, you’ll be in a better position to map out your story and insert clues in just the right places. The same goes for the all-important red herrings. Misdirection in mysteries is every bit as important as truth.

The crime in my second novel NIGHT ON FIRE is the murder of a newlywed named Trevor Simms. The prime suspect is his new wife Erin. The killer in my novel attempted to cover his or her tracks by setting the crime scene – the honeymoon suite at a popular Hawaiian beach resort – on fire. The fire spread and left eleven innocents dead. The crime of arson complicated my novel more than I ever expected, because arson investigation is extremely difficult. Arson is a crime that destroys its own clues, and arsonists are rarely caught and convicted. Had I not planned the murder and arson in great detail prior to writing my novel, I’m certain I would have run into insurmountable obstacles midway through.

By conducting research and drafting the murder scene beforehand, I was able to plant invaluable clues throughout my story – the fire’s point of origin, the charcoal starter fluid used as an accelerant, and a dozen coins found in the hotel hallway, to name a few. Remember, the method of the crime is every bit as important as the investigation that follows. Save yourself some time and panic, and plan your crime in detail beforehand. (As an author and former defense attorney, I assure you, that advice works as well for crime writers as it does for criminals).


  1. For those of you who don't know me:

    DOUGLAS CORLEONE is the author of the Kevin Corvelli crime series set in Hawaii. His debut novel ONE MAN'S PARADISE won the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Award. A former New York City criminal defense attorney, Corleone now resides in the Hawaiian Islands, where he writes full-time. NIGHT ON FIRE is his second novel.

  2. But it's always wise to check in with a doctor before you start using a supplement regularly. The second option is to use headphones as you probably did at the gym in the past. Smoking can affect your health and fitness since it affects all the bodily functions and damages vocal cords and skin.

    Here is my webpage ... visit the following web site

  3. In fact, these types of pictures are daily posted and shared a lot.
    Some pictures will remind you of your ambitions about your life while other humorous ones will relieve your stress and make your life more comfortable and easier.

    Make your Myspace profile look cool and leave your friends Funny Myspace Comments and Glitter Graphics.

    Here is my webpage funny pictures and sayings to send in emails

  4. They do not insert secret or additional advertising in our material.
    Sometimes we sing some English songs, and I encouraged the students practise their English through the way of singing.
    It is also time to start thinking about how you want your My -
    Space page to look for the holiday.

    Also visit my weblog;

  5. Anyone who needs a new idea to stay motivated should definitely try this.
    Then you'll have no trouble motivating yourself to do it. The decisive factor is that men would want to show themselves as hot and rock solid before the fashionable ladies as ever.

    Take a look at my web-site ...

  6. December is such a special month of the year - quality time with family,
    exchanging gifts, and sumptuous food all month long.
    Protein has a number of benefits, including increasing your metabolism.
    To keep one motivated it is important to alternate the activities after one to two weeks.

    Have a look at my web blog -

  7. choose numerous softwares that are capable enough to satisfy your necessities.

    Regardless, to locate quality photos like this try the following.

    Now, people from all ages like to watch the funny

    Also visit my blog ::

  8. Informative article, exactly what I wanted to find.

    my website

  9. Put it someplace where you cannot miss it if you tried. What you should do is to focus or target a particular group of muscle for
    once or even twice a week. Pencil in at least three workouts a week on your calendar.

    my webpage

  10. Hi, I do believe this is a great site. I stumbledupon it ;) I may
    return yet again since I book-marked it. Money and freedom is the
    best way to change, may you be rich and continue to guide other people.

    Feel free to visit my web site ... angry birds online spielen

  11. Very good article. I'm facing some of these issues as well..

    Also visit my web blog :: angry birds online spielen

  12. Hi! I just wish to offer you a huge thumbs up for your great
    information you have got here on this post. I will be coming back to your web site for more soon.

    Feel free to surf to my website ... biotechnology and bioprocess engineering journal

  13. Way cool! Some extremely valid points! I appreciate you penning this post plus the rest of the website
    is also very good.

    my web page