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.
Now then I’ve got to look at it as the investigator. How does he solve it? Here I find I have to be careful again. I avoid building the investigator’s solution into the crime when I create it. That is far too easy and I feel it produces an unconvincing story. No, I look at the evidence that the crime leaves. Here I find that the messy bits where things went wrong are often good sources of evidence as the villain has to think on his feet. She might not be able to dispose of the evidence because someone arrived on the scene too early, or had to kill someone extra but this killing was unplanned and might be witnessed, or at least leave better evidence than the planned killing.
So this gives me the evidence trail which allows the investigator to track down the villain. The final question is the interaction between the two of them. Is the villain aware she is being tracked? Or does she go about his life supremely convinced she is getting away with it?
Finally we have the ending. Can the villain be brought to justice, or has justice to be served in an extra-judicial manner. Here you can explore the character of the investigator and see how they will react.
One further point, you as writer can never lie to the reader, but obviously characters can. That being said, you can misdirect your readers. In one story I’ve published, the local gossips had the guilty party marked out right from the start. But of course it is a standard of detective fiction that these people are always wrong and it is the brilliance of the detective that allows him to triumph where others fumble in the dark, their view obscured by their prejudices. But what if their prejudices are well founded?
Indeed even the slightest things can misdirect, even referring to the villain as ‘she’ when writing an article can sometimes prod people.
Thank you, Jim. That was great.
And now for his distinctly tongue-in-cheek biography…
Jim Webster is a darkly mysterious character, at the age of twelve he was supplying ammonium nitrate to dubious elements in the same school year. From there he has graduated to passing himself off as a writer, wit and raconteur, mainly because there no longer seemed to be a market for Winchester rifles and cheap liquor.
From an early age he appears to have farmed, acted as a consultant to various organisations and earned money as a freelance journalist, writing scurrilous articles on subjects as diverse as the social policy of Cleomenes IIIrd and the treatment and prevention of summer mastitis in dairy heifers.
Intelligence reports insist that he has a wife (who still lives with him after nearly thirty years) and three daughters.
As far as our agents can tell, he remains domiciled just outside Barrow-in-Furness. He lives between the sea and the English Lake District.
Other than that we have little to report other than that he has apparently written a Sci-Fi adventure/detective story called ‘Justice 4.1’ (The Tsarina Sector) which is being published by Safkhet on 1st March 2014.
He is probably a real person, he has a presence on the web, and you are advised to note the following websites:
- Blog: http://jandbvwebster.wordpress.com
- Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/TsarinaSector
- Goodreads author page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/22998.Jim_Webster
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/JimWebster6
- Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jim-Webster/e/B009UT450I/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1
- Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/fjpwebster
- Safkhet Publishing: http://www.safkhetpublishing.com/authors/Jim_Webster.htm
- And for the book itself: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Justice-4-1-Tsarina-Sector-Webster/dp/1908208236 and http://www.amazon.com/Justice-4-1-Tsarina-Sector-Webster/dp/1908208236.
- and from this blog, my guests who have written on this topic are… Graham Smith 1, Graham Smith 2, DJ Swykert, Marietta Miemietz, Marla Madison, Quentin Bates, Warren Bull, Wayne Zurl.
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