Today’s guest blog post, on the topic of writing crime fiction, is brought to you by multi-genre author Jim Webster.
The Detective Story
Now I don’t think there is a ‘correct’ way to write a detective story, I merely explain how I do it. I always start with the crime. Indeed I start with the motive. The motive not merely gives me a reason for the crime, it illuminates the character of the person who is committing it, and that person is very important in the story. So at this point I try to understand my villain. They must have a reason, and in their eyes at least, their motives are reasonable. Even the capricious seem to act out of a sense of entitlement, which is, in their eyes, reasonable.
So having established the motive, I move on to the method. How does our villain commit the crime? Here I find that I’ve got to plan the crime properly, and I spend a lot of time with this. Indeed I’ll go for a long walk at this point, and during this I can mentally turn the crime inside out, examine the plan for weaknesses and refine it. I want a good plan, one that stands up to scrutiny and one that my villain is happy to stake all on.
The next phase is to work out what happens when the crime is committed. It was a good plan, but one of the first rules is that no plan survives contact with reality. So I now mentally play through the crime as it happens. How do passers-by react? How does the victim react? Do the authorities get someone on the scene rapidly? Can the villain actually manage to carry out the plan? It is at this point I decide what happens.
Now then, here temptation can creep in. I find I have to be careful lest I make the whole thing too artistically satisfying. To avoid this I will try and identify ‘crisis points’ in the crime, places where things can go wrong. At these points I might even roll a dice, to see if they do go wrong. If they do, how does the villain cope with the problems? This all feeds back into what ‘really’ happens, and at the end of the process I have the crime. It’s probably a bit messy and not as slick as the perpetrator hoped but it’s a crime.