Monday 10 July 2023

The Trials Of A Crime Writer: How Not To Kill Everyone


One thing that remains a bit of a staple when it comes to crime novels is that, usually, someone, or many someone's, die. It's not always the case, sometimes you have a different kind of crime to follow along with, but generally speaking, there's pretty much always the risk of a character here and there meeting their end. I've been writing (and reading) crime novels for a very long time, and while occasionally I don't have a death as the kick off for it all, it's generally in there somewhere.

Someone once told me that writing crime novels for teens would encourage violent behaviours in them. Another someone once said that including any kind of bad behaviour or conflict would also drive teens and my readers to drugs or something just as bad. I shook my head at them both then, because the truth is that a lot of the time, these are things that teens are exposed to, bad behaviour wise, or know of, death wise. To hide them from teens in fiction, or any kind of appropriate media would be wrong, and it'd also be dumbing down life for them.

That said, I don't think I personally could write a book where everyone dies. I've been tempted to in the past, where the characters have been annoying me, and the plot doesn't seem to want to be wrangled into where it needs to go, and then I'm tempted to do a whole rocks fall, everyone dies kinda situation. I even wrote about it once (piece found here) but it's never actually be the final draft of that story and I don't think I'll ever really get to a point where it is.

But there are situations, and plots, where a whole lot of characters die, and it can be tempting sometimes to add to the body count. If you're writing horror, that's a whole different ball game, and not one that I have much, if any, experience with as either a writer or reader, so for that I can't help you. But, if you're writing crime, or something adjacent to it, then maybe these tips will help you when it comes to keeping the majority of your characters alive and, somewhat, well by the end of the story.

Now this might not apply to every situation. I, usually, write in first person, and I find that when that main character dies, it's pretty hard for them to finish the story unless they're writing it from some kind of afterlife, which works for some, but not for others. If you write in third and there's no real way to discern who is telling the story, or you have this narrator that no one ever meets, that might not be as big of an issue as for someone like me.

That said, I still feel like for the story to really hit home, you need at least one survivor, someone who has gone through all of this when it comes to the events of it along with the reader. It doesn't have to be the main character, I'm not one of those writers who believes that they always have to survive, but if you do have someone else pick up the pieces afterwards, then make sure that they played a part in the story itself. So when tempted to kill absolutely everyone there, keep in mind that there needs to be someone who can look back and say: this was bad, and here's why.


I know what you might be thinking, that death is the biggest equaliser, that it might be the way to really drive home how bad things go, and while that might be true for a lot of reasons, there's also the aftermath. Imagine this if you will, what's worse, everyone dying and silence, or everyone you know dying and you being left with all of that baggage and trauma that comes with having witnessed it all? Now that's not me saying that either one is better or that you should be traumatising your readers to hit the mark, but just that when it comes to characters, sometimes the worst thing that can happen to them, isn't the end of their lives.

For me, the thought of being the sole survivor scares me more, and would impact me in a deeper way than being one of the ones to not make it. I don't subscribe really to the idea of an afterlife, so for me death is the end, and I'm okay with that. To lose everyone else, to have gone through something terrible like a serial killer hitting those I care about, or some kind of thing like that, that would have a bigger impact on me in the long term. That, I feel, would drive home the loss. But of course, you have to do what's right for your story and your characters, so if that doesn't apply to you, then that's okay too.

So those are my two big thoughts when it comes to not wanting to kill everyone. I don't think that you have to make it so there's no big losses, or that you're not waiting for the reader's tears. After all, making your readers care about your characters and then ripping them from their grasp, that's part of the whole writing thing, but I do feel like having massive losses, to the point where there are no survivors, dampens the effect somewhat.

As always, your mileage may vary, and you gotta do what's right for your story and your characters. I can only talk about what works for me, and hope that it sparks some ideas for you!

Any questions? Lemme know in the comments!

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