Extract from podcast episode 5 (Sept 2010) – crime hints and tips

The fifth episode of my Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 20th September 2010 and the content has never been released other than website links (on my website www.morgenbailey.com) so I hope you find this information useful. In the first four episodes (see earlier blog posts), I covered ‘show not tell’, the five senses, repetition, points of view, tenses, dialogue, characters, and episode five focused on crime…

In trawling the internet some time ago for my writing group, I came across Texas-based Jasper County Public Library’s website (www.jasperco.lib.in.us) which gave 16 differences between mystery and suspense including:

  • A mystery concerns itself with a puzzle.  Suspense presents the reader with a nightmare.
  • In a mystery, thinking is paramount.  In suspense, feeling is paramount.
  • Readers of mysteries are looking for clues.  Readers of suspense are expecting surprises.
  • In a mystery, information is withheld.  In suspense novels, information is provided.
  • The ideal reader of mysteries remains one step behind the hero or heroine.  Those who read suspense should be one step ahead of the protagonist.
  • A mystery hero or heroine must confront a series of red herrings.  The suspense novel’s character faces a cycle of distrust.
  • Mystery endings must be intellectually satisfying.  Suspense endings must provide emotional satisfaction.
  • Back in 2005 the BBC ran a series called ‘Murder Most Famous’ where author Minette Walters coached six celebrities on writing a crime novel. In each programme they would be sent on fake police incidents or watch real-life investigation in the making, all to assist them with their writing. The BBC website still has the information on it which includes a great page of Minette’s tips. www.bbc.co.uk/murdermostfamous/tips/index.shtml.
  • British crime writer Alison Bruce says “even if it is painful, try to see rejection and criticism as opportunities; they have made my writing improve and good ideas appear from nowhere”, “you will only ever publish a finished book, so keep writing”, “make sure that you are writing something that has a market, is the right length and is as good as you can possibly make it before you send it out” and “find an agent that you really like and respect; they are probably going to give you some tough feedback, so pick one that you trust, then trust what they tell you”.
  • Ian Rankin says the essential difference between crime and thriller is probably the idea of the chase. “In the crime novel it’s more of an internal chase, one detective up against one individual, you’re very much inside the head of the detective and you’re fairly static, not shifting all over the world. When you come to the thriller what you tend to have is some kind of wide ranging conspiracy involving governments or terrorists, and you tend to have an ordinary person who’s thrown into this and has to try to make sense of it, so you get this external chase which goes all over the globe.”
  • Colin Dexter, creator of Inspector Morse, says he is writing in that whodunit tradition. “You get a murder committed and you call in your Man (Morse), who’s usually accompanied by a sidekick (Lewis). Your man is the only one who can read the clues and at the end you get the resolution of the crime by the unmasking of the crook.” Auriol, one of my Monday nighters, added that it’s usually the sidekick who asks the questions that the reader would ask, thereby presumably adding depth and pushing the story along.
  • Michael Ridpath, who used to work in London and now writes thrillers set in the financial world, says “War stories were the thrillers of the 1950s, then there was the Cold War and you got more spy stories with Russia as the real threat. Now the spies and the war have disappeared from most people’s experience and I think what’s replaced those books are white collar thrillers, thrillers about more everyday life; thrillers set in legal, financial, horse racing and art worlds.”

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