More learnings from the Crime Fiction book by John Scaggs that I referred to last week – I recommend this as a good research read for anyone attempting to write a crime novel.

My novel is a crime thriller – a psychological thriller. He lists some findings and observations that are obvious when you state them but are actually very useful to remember as you construct your plot.

He references a book by Julian Symons called ‘Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel’, where Symons points to some significant features of a crime thriller:

  1. The crime thriller is based on ‘psychology of characters – what stresses would make A want to kill B – or an intolerable situation that must end in violence.
  2. The fact that, unlike detective fiction, there is often no detective, or, when there is, he or she plays a secondary role.
  3. The fact that setting is often central to the atmosphere and tone of the story, and frequently is inextricably bound up with the nature of the crime itself.
  4. That the social perspective of the story is often radical, and questions some aspect of society, law, or justice.
  5. The observation that characters form the basis of the story. According to Symons, ‘The lives and characters are shown continuing after the crime, and often their subsequent behaviour is important to the story’s effect.

He says that they don’t have to cover ALL of these aspects and often don’t but it is an interesting reminder.

In another part, he references Priestman who identifies:
‘One of the central aspects of the crime thriller is that it emphasises present danger rather than reflecting on, or investigating, past action.’

As I say, when you write these things down, they seem obvious, but it does help to contrast that to your developing novel, to ensure there is enough threat and present danger in it.

In the development of my plot, I have found that I have covered a number of these points quite naturally. This is probably driven by reading a number of psychological thrillers and being influenced by the genre.

I don’t have a detective, my protagonist is a journalist, Emma. It is the interaction of the characters that interests me the most and I do have the majority of the story happening well after the crime. The revelation of the crime in the past is the main climax to the story.

I have not concentrated on the setting as being that important, so I will revisit that based on this research. Perhaps a stronger, more interesting setting would add tension. I can see that for a number of scenes. I tend to set them in every day situations, like coffee shops or houses, but it’d be more thrilling for some of them to be in more dangerous places – the middle of a forest, the edge of a cliff, the top of a building, on a shooting range, in a fairground. There could be many threatening places that will add tension.

I’m not sure I can see where I could put in some social perspective, not to add anything. Yes, some characters are richer than others but it is incidental to the story. I haven’t brought any politics into it anywhere, or religion. If I go back and add any of that, I think it may look a little false.

This academic process of research has really helped me add tension to my plot and narrative – have a look at yours in this light.

Any thoughts or comments?