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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

The Rules - And Bending Them

When you become more experienced in the writing of crime and mystery fiction, you can not only bend the rules, you can abandon them altogether and still succeed as have many famous writers. But for now...

1. Plot, plot, plot. Your readers will need a story they can become involved in. It must have a beginning, a middle and an end. It will also include subplots, the trickier the better.

2. Your readers want a problem, or problems clearly identified for the protagonist to solve and they want him to fail - just a little. Solving the problems must not appear too easy or the answers to the puzzle too obvious. They still want the villain punished, not always by conventional means.

3. Your protagonist can be male or female, gay or straight in the modern story, it doesn't matter. Gone is the macho mate PI identity. Whomever you choose as your hero or antihero being the main character, must be credible in today's society. Readers have readily accepted female investigators such as the characters Kinsey Milhone and V.I. Warshawski who do an equal job, though not as physical as their mate counterparts.

4. The setting for your story can be anywhere, but make sure if it is not a place well known to you, or if you want to create a fictitious town or city, do your homework well. Be consistent.  If the police station is next door to the council chambers on page 3 don't let it move down to the corner of Adams Street next to the garage on page 15.

As a background for murder: The setting can be an exotic location, full of wealthy tourists, or a quiet suburban home, a gambler's den or a disco, an art gallery or a large convention centre. Wherever you decide to locate your scene of the crime, do sufficient research to keep your credibility intact. You may select the location of a large building which currently has another use but in your story becomes your convention centre with a number of important overseas guests. One by one they are being murdered. Your protagonist works this area of the city as part of his investigation, which means you need to know the streets, laneways, parks, landmarks of your area where the story is set, factual or fictitious. Feel comfortable with your surroundings and your story will flow.

5. Advancing the storyline. Everything that happens in your story, violence, dialogue, car chases, love scenes, trips back into time, all must have a point. Their reason for being in the story at all must be to advance the story-line or they should be cut.

6.The characters must be real people. It will not take the avid reader of crime fiction long to pick a cardboard character. They will simply stop reading your story.

Creating good characters gives you, the writer, a clear picture of the person. When were they born? This will show the influence of the trends and society they grew up in. Their education may have gone as far as university, or only as far as college.  They have hopes and fears, likes and dislikes and throughout their life may have suffered loss of a very personal nature, or have a major prejudice. The past in our lives has the bad habit of re-appearing and the same can be true for your characters; making their lives more complex. All this helps the reader identify with the character and grow to love or hate them. Not only the main character, but also the supporting cast of characters such as housekeepers, girlfriends, wives, secretaries, boyfriends, ex-husbands, staff, bosses and neighbours; need to be crafted to varying degrees for their role in moving the story-line along.

Watch out for errors.  Be mindful that your housekeeper Kathy on the first page, hasn't become Kathy the secretary on page 60.

7. Viewpoint. Again, be aware of consistency. If you start using the 'I' factor of a first person viewpoint story, don't lapse into third person narrative along the way. For beginning writers it is easier to use first person while getting used to the feet of writing, though it is far more restrictive.

8. Clues and Red Herrings. This is one of the most difficult and important aspects of your crime and mystery story. It is the puzzle element and can change the flow of the action. Not all clues are genuine. Some are false, red herrings, leading the story away from the main source, giving your protagonist the frustration of having to start all over again. Your job as a writer is to confuse the trail, hide clues, plant new clues, build up the climax and allow the protagonist to solve the crime - holding the reader's interest to the very last page.

9. Dialogue. Avoid "Mary said, Tom replied". The characters in your story must be able to be identified by their own distinct voice. This comes not only from developing your characters, but recognising that they are individuals i.e., Mary might be elderly and tend to repeat herself or leave her sentences unfinished in a vague way. Tom could be young and eager and speak fast with a breathless quality, or be shy and hesitate because he stammers.

10. Openings and Endings. Make them happen with a bang and not a whimper. Your opening sentence or paragraph is the most important. Don't let your ending fade away.

Treat these rules seriously for success. Make them your own recipe for writing crime.

The Ideas Game - Inspiration

Question: Where do ideas come from? Answer: Everywhere.

This appears-of little help to an aspiring writer-facing a blank sheet of paper or an empty computer screen. Imagination is the key, relax and let your mind wander.

Example: What if... You were driving, stopped in traffic and noticed a derelict bag lady pushing a shopping trolley loaded with all her possessions?

What if... In talking to her you found she wasn't a true bag lady at all, but someone rich and eccentric who believed her family want her killed so she disappeared and became a bag lady?  Would your private investigator take on her case? Act out your story.

Look around you, if you are in a house how many exit doors are there? If someone came in the front door where would you hide? Could you escape, unseen through another exit? Try this with other venues as well. Newspapers and TV are great real life sources of ideas for a crime writer, the news is full of robberies, art exhibitions, bag snatchers, murders, police reports, drug busts, bank hold-ups, and similar events.

Think of the people you know, the elderly aunt who refuses to use a bank and hides cash at home. The couple who fight when they come home from the bar. The man who is so ambitious for his son, who seems deliberately to work against his father and is always in trouble at school. The retired bank teller who after 35 years didn't achieve promotion to manager and was retrenched. Life is full of stories some sad, some cheerful.

Plots and characters for your story are in great supply.

Learn to play with ideas on people and surroundings. Your creativity will take time to develop, but soon you will learn to relax and let your imagination take over, adding colour and interest to your everyday walk through life. Carry a notebook and pen at all times to capture your ideas or scrapes of conversation overheard.

Don't waste your dreams, keep a notebook beside your bed and jot down a dream sequence before you go back to steep.

Looking forward to our next trip together through the pages of crime and mystery.

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