Monday 18 February 2019

The Trials of a Crime Writer: Balancing Realism & Fiction


I've talked about this before in one of my tropes pieces (linked here) but I feel like it's something that needs to be covered more as a crime writer than just the plain ole indie author series I have. I think when it comes to writing crime, there's a lot of times when the barrier to realism is crossed and your ability to suspend disbelief vanishes. It's not necessarily bad writing, but sometimes things are just too "out there" to be considered plausible and real even in fiction.

With some genres, that's okay because we're talking about fantasy and worlds other than our own. In sci-fi there's a bigger limit again because it's either futuristic or enough is explained by tech that you can turn a blind eye to the things that don't ring true for you. But when it comes to crime, there's this feeling that things needs to make sense otherwise, it just doesn't feel believable and/or real enough to pass.

Now some of that is a case of the series 'jumping the shark', a phrase coined to basically mean that we're into the disbelief entirely and unable to go further without it verging on the ridiculous. I can name several YA series that this happened to, but I won't because I'm not that kind of blog, and these were also ones from my childhood and it seems silly to rake them over the coals. But what am I planning to talk about here? The balance between the two.

Because that's the important part of writing fiction, about finding that balance. And I feel that it especially applies to crime fiction and here's why. So many people who read crime, are doing so to escape, but also to follow the mystery. They're looking for a detective going out and about and seeing this or that happen, and they're coming along for the ride. They want to see the clues shown and see if they can beat the detective to the punch and find out who was the killer/other bad guy. It's about being along for the chase, and if the end result is something that makes the reader feel cheated, then it's doing something wrong.

So how do you balance between the two? It's not an easy feat. It's something that will take time, experience, and also research. I've already talked before about my feeling of there being too many serial killers in series. I've read a series that I ended up stopping because every new case was a new serial killer. I decided that one was okay, two was stretching it, but beyond that, with every new book in the series focused on a serial killer in the same geographical location? That's just beyond realism. It's into the absurd!

So what are some things you can look out for when writing that will let you know if you're crossing that line? Glad you asked, because I have a few tips to share with you!

If it's something that you see frequently, like assault, or police searches for missing people, then it's probably something that can be turned into an idea. And you can take it and make it your own. You can add bits and pieces that aren't often on the news and come out with a really good story. And you can have it work for you. That's not to say that if it's rarely mentioned you should never use it as a plot point, of course there are crimes out there that are infrequent, but just don't build a whole series around it constantly happening, because that's gonna make people sit back and go: WTF?

The key to any good crime novel is the suspense that's built up in the mystery. If it's something like stealing someone's identity and using it as a way to get away with crimes, then it can be turned to add suspense. Not every suspenseful book has bodies dropping at an alarming rate. There are other ways to keep the reader glued to the page and allow for the story to play out. Utilise those and you'll find yourself with a good story on your hands.

As you all know, I recently released a sci-fi/crime novel. I had the idea for the crime aspects, but for it to work, I had to set it into the near future so that I could allow for tech advances and newer ways of fighting crime. If you've got an idea that would be unbelievable now, but wouldn't in the past or future, so long as you write it well, and skirt that edge but never cross over, it should be fine to write. Just remember to do your research and allow for feedback before you get to the publication route.

And finally, #4 - CHECK YOUR FACTS
This feels like something that shouldn't need to be said, but at the same time, it still happens. There are always going to be some facts that might impede your story, and for some of those, you can alter the time, place or even the rules of the world, but a lot of the time, you're going to need to rework your idea to make sure that it follows the facts. Otherwise you'll end up looking like an idiot who didn't do their research and no one wants that. So, be sure to not skip this step!

And those are my tips, if you have any others, or comments about your own history with realism in fiction, be sure to let me know in the comments! Good luck!

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