Sherlock Holmes, Chief Inspector Barnaby, Dalziel and Pascoe, Miss Marple. We all love reading and watching detectives. But why exactly is that, what makes a detective successful? To find this out, I recently attended a crime fiction writing workshop in Oxford, England. With great enthusiasm, I dived into the world of suspense, betrayal and murder, and soon learned that writing crime fiction is no small order.
The setting for the workshop – the Oxford Union – could not have been more appropriate. There’s something about the creak of aged oak staircases and long corridors framed with pictures of professors and students. Standing in one of The Union’s rooms, fitted with wall to wall bookcases and Victorian oak tables engraved with leather I felt a strong presence of long-gone literary authors.
“Elementary, my dear Watson, elementary”
In-depth plot and character discussions and challenging writing exercises quickly revealed that writing fiction calls on many talents. The ability to create a credible protagonist (or “hero” if you like), for instance. For the reader to relate to your character, or at least be intrigued by him, he has to be a genuine person – a three-dimensional human being with curious habits and internal conflicts. Who doesn’t know the eccentric Sherlock Holmes, perfectly skilled in astute observation and deductive reasoning but with a serious cocaine addiction? The same goes for the antagonist, the villain. Let your imagination run free to create a dangerous psychopath like Hannibal Lecter, or a less daunting villain like the Sheriff of Nottingham.Watch movie online Rings (2017)
Twists and turns
There’s no such thing as a bestseller without a decent plot. Remember the film Seven? Two homicide detectives hunt down serial killer John Doe (Kevin Spacey), who justifies his crimes as absolution for the world’s ignorance of the Seven Deadly Sins. There’s an incredible pace to this story. It keeps the viewer in suspense and wondering what will happen next. And the surprising twist at the end – where Brad Pitt performs the last of the seven sins, revenge – is the icing on the cake.
Show, don’t tell
I was pleased to find that communications and crime fiction writing have a lot in common. Be clear on who your audience is, what you want to tell them, draw them in and get them involved. In crime writing in particular, tone of voice, point of view and “Show, don’t tell” can make the difference between fame and failure. “He confessed” is just not as imaginative as “He buried his head in his hands, tears running down his old and sun-burnt fingers. Avoiding Barnaby’s eyes, he murmured softly: ‘I just couldn’t take it any more, she simply had to go…..’”