Suspense & Mystery
Shane P. Carr, Associate Editor, Suspense & Mystery
Issue # 2: 03/01/01
and Using Language in Fiction
In fiction, we want it to be complicated. But no matter how complicated it is, accuracy is important.
Anne Wingte, Ph.D.
Scene of the Crime
Writer's Digest Books
you ever want to write a mystery or crime story, but didnt know where
to begin? Perhaps you have an idea but you are not exactly sure how to
develop it into a suspenseful story.
Maybe you just want to make your characters and scenes a bit more
realistic. No matter what you reason, your goal is to create some
compelling and suspenseful crime fiction. In the following article I offer
you a few of the key ingredients necessary for such fiction.
and crime writers have a few obstacles before them that writers of other
genres do not. In developing a good crime story, the author must be able
to think backwards to the scenes that happen before their story begins.
say, for instance, that I am writing a story about a serial killer. As the
author, I must envision the crime as it happens as well as the motive and
actions that lead up to it. I must also be able to see what mistakes the
villain will make that enable the hero to solve the crime.
creating the villain for a crime or suspense story you need to focus on
The villains background. Who was he/she prior to committing the crime? This includes the characters family, profession, hobbies, interests, social status, etc. A clear view of this characters normal life must be established. The background should also include the characters phobias and weaknesses. This will help your hero develop a psychological profile on your villain. In turn, your hero will begin to think like your villain.
Motive. Why did the character commit the crime? What would he/she gain by committing the crime? The motive can usually be drawn from the characters background or an event that affected the characters life. A pattern of abuse or psychological disability can lead the character to commit violent crimes. A man who is homeless or poor may decide to steal, either for survival or just to live his life more comfortably. A woman who catches her husband being unfaithful may be hurt enough to plan his, or perhaps his lovers, murder . In any case, the characters motive is the driving force behind why he or she committed the crime.
MO or Modus Operandi: This is the method the villain will use to commit the crime. Most people who commit crimes regularly have a repetitive pattern, especially in the case of violent criminals. Does the villain strangle his victims with a certain type of rope? Does he leave a rose at the scene? Is the crime scene organized in a certain way? Does each crime take place on a college campus or near a certain truck stop? Does the villain target only women or men? Does he target a certain ethnic background? Perhaps the villain is a thief who only steals a certain type of car or only robs certain types of businesses. These are but a few examples for developing you characters MO. Your choices in this area are nearly limitless. Just keep in mind that the MO should make the crimes unique to your villain and convey something about him or her to the reader.
you have developed your villains background, motive and MO, you must
than envision the crime happening. Some writers choose to begin their
stories with the crime as it occurs. Other writers like to start the story
with the police or hero arriving at the scene of the crime. Either way
works. However, at this point, its a good idea for you, as the author,
to already know how your hero solves the crime. You should have a general
idea of what clues will be found and which supporting characters witnessed
list of possible suspects is one of the crime or mystery writers most
useful tools. The list allows the writer to add twists and cast doubts as
to who the real villain is. This will increase the suspense of the story
and keep readers guessing until the end.
you have this figured out, you can begin writing your story, leading your
hero through a serious of events that help him/her to solve the crime.
Watching police dramas on television or reading some good mysteries/crime
dramas should help you in this area. Take for instance Law and Order
or The Profiler. Each show is a prime example of criminal
investigations. Another prime example is Andrew Klavans novel True
Crime in which an investigative reporter discovers a death row inmate
scheduled for execution is innocent of the crime and, in turn, must build
enough evidence to prove it. In each of these, pay attention to how the
characters develop a profile of the villain as well as other potential
suspects. Examine the techniques used to investigate and question
potential witnesses and possible suspects.
you have tuned yourself to thinking like an investigator, writing your
story should become easier. Luckily there are plenty of resources for
writers to learn about criminal investigations and criminal profiling. A
quick trip to your local library or bookstore should give you easy access
series of books that I found particularly useful is the Mind Hunter series
by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. John Douglas is a renowned profiler for
the F.B.I. Through each of his books he brings readers into the minds of
the worlds most dangerous criminals. Covering everyone from John Wayne
Gacy and Ted Bundy to the Unabomber and Timothy McVeigh, Douglas gives
readers a glimpse of the crime scenes and explains how criminal and
psychological profiles were built on each. I found it a must for anyone
developing a violent criminal character for his or her story.
would also recommend the Howdunit series to anyone writing crime or
suspense fiction. This series, published by Writers Digest Books, is an
excellent set of reference tools. Covering every technical aspect of crime
fiction in an easy to use format, writers can research everything from
crime scene investigations, police procedure and forensic medicine to
criminal MO, poisons, and different types of crimes. A must-read for any
writer who wants to get the finer details precise and accurate.
should now have a wealth of resources to draw from when writing your
story. All you need to do now is think up the perfect crime.