Monday 5 June 2017

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: Fitting The Crime To Your Story

It's been something that I've been meaning to write about for a while. It's all very well and good to have some idea of what your plot should be, but there are times when you have the perfect crime in mind and then the plot doesn't fit. I'm nearing the end of both books I'm working on right now, and one of my current works in progress is an awesome example of this. When I planned the book, I thought robbery would be the best crime to fit the story I wanted to tell. Boy was I wrong! It was only as I started to write, started to get to know the characters and started to get into the story properly that I realised that the stakes had to be higher. There was no way a father would baulk at a robbery if his daughter were being threatened! That's not going to happen. So I had to change it, and I had to make sure that it fitted the narrative I wanted to tell.

The problem is that being a hybrid makes this easier. I plan to some extent with the majority of my books, and usually when I'm starting with a fresh load of new characters I plan extensively. My issue wasn't lack of planning, it was lack of knowing the characters, which is something a lot of writers fall into when they're starting out. So what's my reason? Simple, I'm of the group that characters can change the way a story is written. There are some very well known and very successful writers who would tell me that's silly because I created them and they are not real. It's something the writing circle is split on. I'm on the side that they get a life of their own, and I'm not on my own there either.

But what does this have to do with the crime fitting the story? Simple. In the book I was just talking about, I mentioned that I had planned - a heavily at that - to go one way with the crime and then realised that it wouldn't work. Could that have been fixed by doing heavy outlining? Probably yes, and if you're a first time writer I would heavily recommend that you do do a lot of outlining and planning because it's the best way to learn how your style of writing works. As someone who's been doing this a while and has always been a hybrid, I can tell you that writing is not easy and that having a plan to guide you is the best thing. As you grow into your own writing and planning style, then you'll have the knowledge and ability to determine what works or doesn't work for you.

So back to the subject at hand. How do you know when the crime you choose is going to fit? Sometimes it takes a lot of thinking and planning to get to that point, and sometimes you don't know until you're actually writing that scene. When I wanted Sai to be a robber, I didn't foresee that there would be implications that don't fit his character, nor do they fit the other characters in the story. So I had to up the ante and hope that from there I could pull together a story that did the characters justice.  That said, in another book I went for huge crime and realised that actually it didn't need to be that complicated. It could just be a simple drug deal gone wrong. It didn't need to be a conspiracy theory and it didn't fit either the story nor the characters. In fact it made it all seem rather silly.

So how do you know when your crime fits? I can give you some tips and see what you can work out from there. It may be that, like me, you don't know what the big crime is going to be until you're in the scene. It may also be that you know your characters well enough to know exactly what would make them cross the line from law abiding into the land of criminal activity.

As I said, Sai being forced to commit burglaries is possible, but when his daughter's life in on the line, he's not going to be thinking about it. He's going to do it without thought, without fear, just do what needs to get done to keep is child safe. As any good parent would do. So when you're writing, know what's at stake and make sure that the crime you've chosen fits those stakes. There's no need to go high if you can manage with a bit of petty crime along the way.

There are always going to be those characters who actually wouldn't blink at killing someone or committing a heinous crime. They just don't care about the law and they're pretty happy to do what they want, when they want, and no matter about anyone getting hurt along the way. In that instance, you can go big, but on the other side of the scale you'll have someone who wouldn't even drive over the speed limit. It's about knowing where your character draws the line. Once you've found that line, work out what's on the other side of it.

And finally #3 - KEEP IT SIMPLE
There is not need for a convoluted plot where A steals from B who's planning to murder C and then ends up being responsible for the death of the free world. While these kind of plots have their place in fiction, you should really think about keeping it as simple as possible. Like knowing your characters and knowing the stakes, you need to make sure that it's something that you can follow without a map, diagram and time line for the reader to follow. If you make it too complicated then you're going to have confused, and angry, readers who have no idea what's going on.

So there we have it, my three tips of fitting the crime to your story. I've used all three of them numerous times before and I hope they are of some help to you. It might be that as you grow and evolve as a writer you find it easier to think up what fits the story and your characters. As always though, your mileage may vary. 

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