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About the Writer:

Sue Raines is a freelance writer and playwright. Having turned her talents to crime and mystery writing Sue has found a niche in teaching the genre. Other works include articles, book reviews and short stories published in magazines and anthologies. A member of Partners in Crime Sydney, she is also an avid reader of crime and mystery fiction.


Creating Crime & Mystery
Sue Raines

In the words of the renowned Queen of Crime, Dame Agatha Christie "Murder is Easy". This famous English author, was born 114 years ago, her estate still enjoys sales from her mystery novels earning millions each year and are translated into more than 100 languages. Christieís work has been acclaimed, criticised, analysed and copied by writers and critics world wide since her death in 1976. Together, letís see if Murder is easy.

By far murder is not the only crime you can write about, the crime genre has numerous sub-genres and you may decide to write about blue collar crime, fraud, detective stories, police procedural, Large scale robbery, blackmail, kidnapping, serial killings, just to name a few. So you see, unlike Ms Christie, todays modern writer of crime and mystery has a wide choice and a society that demands that plots are action driven and characters realistic, though not always predicable.

Lets look at your starting point to write in this genre. Who are your favourite authors? Kathy Reichs, Clare McNab, Dick Francis, John Lutz, Sara Paretsky, Faye Kellerman or maybe Patricia Cornwell. We could continue but you know the type of fiction you favour. Take a story from two of your favourite authors and jot down the following from each;

1. The first sentence of the novel and three other opening sentences of various chapters.

2. Do the same with three opening paragraphs from various chapters.

Compare these and ask WHY? what have I, the reader learnt from these words. What did the author want me to know about the story or characters this quickly?

In comparing these two chosen stories are they written in first or third person? Do you feel that the story would benefit from change. Rewrite the first paragraph of each and see if it is improved by changing the I factor.

Continue your notes and your comparison;

3. How far into each story is
a) The protagonist introduced.
b) The murder, or kidnap victim identified or the site of the Burglary or plan for embezzlement of funds etc.

4. Has the location of the proposed crime been revealed yet? In your comparison notes is the location a good one? Is it clear that this is where the action will take place.

5. How many main characters beside your protagonist are in each story?

6. How many minor characters are in each story?

By doing all this you are learning to understand the need to reveal characters and action early in your story. Creating a fictitious world for crime and populating it with the right people who may not always act on cue but are nevertheless realistic and believable to your reader will keep them reading your book. But you have to practise to be good at it.

Planning your story as a writer. Perhaps you think that it isnít necessary to plan your story, that inspiration will strike like lightening or the muse will drop by for a visit. Alas no. Although some writers deny ever planning their story, a much better result is achieved if they do and in the writing of crime and mystery it is essential. How else would you know where to place your clues? Who would discover the body? How would that big heist be tackled without a plan of the premises and security system? Who will drive the get- away car?

Planning a story does far more than help you write clearly and effectively with sub plots and the tension building. It helps you as the writer think about fact and fiction, the sort of mixture of each you want to include in your story. It trains you to look at people and places around you and take notes. This is where you find your clues, your characters and settings for your story. Why is that couple arguing at the end table? Has he just admitted to being unfaithful? Are they arguing about the share of loot from a robbery? Is she trying to convince him to kill her husband so they can run away together? More likely she has her Mom coming to visit and he is against it... See what I mean about using your imagination with total strangers.

Be aware, that in this early stage you must also induce your reader to experience the use of all their five senses. Allow them to hear the screech of brakes. The smell of oil or sweat. The slow footsteps returning to the kidnapperís den or the quick panicky steps of a person trying to escape or find a hiding place. The lack of sight if hidden in a dark place. The lack of hearing if the victim of a blast. The feel of cold water if diving or falling from a cliff, the impact of the water, the panic and struggle to reach the surface to breathe. The relief of tears. The taste of whisky. The cold hard feel of metal when holding a gun, the weight and recoil. Your reader wants to share every minute of the story, the high points, the low points, the frustration and anger felt by your protagonist. As the writer, you can ensure that they do, by creating form, colour, tempo and emotions with your words.

Live your story. How many steps are there at the railway station? Is the pavement in the side street uneven? Could someone hurrying fall? How long would it take to walk home from the theatre, if at night is one side of the street lit? or both? Is there a section not lit at all, what sort of buildings are in this unlit area? Remember you are creating a fictitious world but use the items around you to show its reality. For example a hopper window pushes out, a sash window pushed up. Small detail, but all part of your research, your reader will know the difference.

The only way to hold the readerís interest is to withhold from him/her something they want to know. Crime and mystery writers play this game with their readers, giving just enough information to tempt them and by laying a line of clues to be identified, collected, or discarded. Nothing is easy and the reader is lulled into a sense of false security. Tempted away in another direction to divert their interest from a particular clue or to imply that what is about to occur is more important than it really is in the story ending. Crime enthusiasts of course will be hard to foil as they believe they have seen it all before. But have they? Human nature is a funny thing and never ceases to amaze. Organise your sub-plots to create the action away from the main story, even have your protagonist take leave for a few pages, allowing the minor characters to take over temporarily and put the reader off the pace.

Naturally we will allow the reader back into our little world at the end, when crimes are solved, clues are revealed, weapons identified, characters caught. All fair and convincing them that this was the only possible ending. But was it?

Stay with us and continue to enjoy a creative stroll through the world of Crime and Mystery writing.

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