I’ve been working on a junior crime series and decided to attend a crime writing workshop for further inspiration. The workshop was run by YA author Ellie Marney at the Wheeler Centre last month. Ellie is the author of the three book Every series about a handsome teen ‘Sherlock’ – James Mycroft – and his trusty sidekick ‘Watson’ – Rachel Watts. I have read all three and they are a great read and quite sexy!
Ellie shared these tips:
- You need a crime (doh!), perpetrator, victim, detective and sidekick.
- Murder is by far and away the best crime because it covers all possible motives – money, control, high emotion (love or hate), political or religious views, self defence or defence of others.
- Write something that deeply affects you or intrigues you. Find your passion in the story. Your job as a writer is to create an emotional response in the reader.
- Crime is about the human puzzle – what is it to be human? What drives people to do bad things? How does the perpetrator get to this point?
- Figure out your character’s backstory. You need to know why a character does what they do.
- Villains need to be genuinely life-threatening. They may be strong where the detective is weak. They may be the flipside (dark-side) of your hero. But remember, every villain is the hero of their own story.
- Location will effect characters. For example, a character’s personality will be shaped by growing up in an isolated, rural environment.
- Tone. Think about the kind of tone you want to inject – particularly if writing for kids you might want more humour or a light-weight feel.
- Action. The character’s inner journey will dictate their outer journey.
- Sequence of events. This might be the crime, finding the first clue, the police interview, interviewing witnesses, examining the evidence, the autopsy, data crunching, door knocking.
- Remember to put obstacles in the way of the investigators – delays, people who don’t like you, the perpetrator, parents?
- Structure – try to follow what your character would do but you need to know why they do it. Try to make sure the character does something rather than having something done to them.
- Try to avoid character tropes. Everyone knows the brilliant detective, the helpful sidekick, the damsel in distress. To change tropes, try making your character the opposite of the trope. You might do this by changing their gender, their age of giving them a disability.
- Authenticity is achieved by specific details. Think about what happens to your body when you’re scared, say, and give those physical reactions to a character. ‘Sprinkle’ authenticity – ie. Give characters your own memories or feelings to create a sense of reality.
- Tension – characters are at their most tense when they’re at war with themselves. Ellie gave an example from her Every series where at the start of Book 1, her main character Rachel wants two diametrically opposed things – to return to her country home but to be with the city boy that she’s falling for. Also, find a character your character would never find something in common with and bring them together. Then every time they’re in a scene together, there’s conflict. Ellie did this to great effect in Book 3 of the Every series by introducing Harris – an old friend from Five Mile – who has the hots for Rachel and is a bit of a bogan. So every time, Harris is in a scene with Mycroft there’s tension – partly because one is a hip city guy and the other is a tough country guy but mostly because they’re both in love with the same girl.
- Clues – physical evidence, forensic evidence (that comes up after testing), dialogue, behaviour, relationships between people. Red Herrings or throwing your reader off the scent can be achieved by putting in too much details or misleading clues.
- Your character must change throughout the story – even if it’s just something they’ve learned. The stakes need to be highest at the end – make it the worst day of your character’s life. You need to confront your character with their greatest fear – death, that justice will not be served, that the evil character will walk free.
- Research. Ellie cautioned against research which can suck you into a deep hole and prevent you from writing your novel. Only research things you don’t know and go for the easiest route (Google) first 🙂