Top 10 tips for crime thriller writers

FF 1As part of my blog tour to promote my new book, Vicious Rumer, which is available from Unbound here, I came up with 10 essentials for crime writers over at Female First. Check out their website here and read on below for my tips…

Decide what sort of crime thriller you want to write. It sounds straightforward, but genre can be flexible like plasticine; and that’s especially true for the crime genre. Are you writing a murder mystery? A gangster thriller? A heist story? A serial killer potboiler? A mixture of all four?! Knowing what sort of thriller you’re writing enables you to play around with tropes and shape something genuinely surprising.

Don’t JUST make it about crime. Sure, crime is an integral part of the plot, but the best thrillers have a lot more going on than that. Gone Girl is about mistrust and marital crisis. Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None is about injustice and vengeance. Aside from a juicy crime plot, what do you really want to write about?

What’s your MacGuffin? That term was coined by screenwriter Angus MacPhail to describe an object or goal that drives the plot. In The Maltese Falcon, the MacGuffin is the titular priceless artefact. In my book, Killing Rumer, the MacGuffin is an occult relic called the Crook Spear; but what is it and why does everybody want it? Those questions keep the action clipping along.

Write what scares you. Clearly, a thriller is nothing without thrills, so think about the things that get your heart racing. If you suffer from claustrophobia, trap your character in a coffin. If you’re scared of the dark, smash all the lightbulbs in your character’s apartment. By writing something that puts you on edge, you’re likely to illicit a similar response from your readers.

Who’s your hero and what drives them? Lisbeth Salander. Sam Spade. Clarice Starling. The crime genre is crammed with memorably flawed and fascinating heroes. What makes yours unique? Think about what shaped your character. Is she headstrong because she’s always had to fend for herself? Is he emotional because he’s lost so much? What is unique about your hero’s reaction to the plot’s sinister events and why are they so determined to uncover the truth?

Spend time brainstorming the title. An eye-catching title is the first battle for any book. Study the titles of books you love and ask why they work. For my book, I brainstormed a dozen different titles before I settled on Killing Rumer, which hopefully asks a question readers want to uncover the answer to. Then consider potential taglines: a title and a tagline should shake hands with each other. Chris Carter’s recent book, The Caller, played with a clever pun: Your life is on the line. If puns aren’t your thing, perhaps there’s a quote in your book you can use.

How will technology factor into the story? In a world of iPhones, CCTV, dictaphones and countless other technological doohickies, how is your story affected by modern life? How does technology limit or enable your character’s actions? Of course, you could eradicate that problem by writing a historical thriller instead, but that could open a whole new can of worms…

Don’t just read crime thrillers. Draw from everything and everywhere. Inspiration often comes from surprising places, so while it’s good to get a sense of genre by reading books similar to the one you’re writing, be sure to read around. Watch TV and movies. Read comics. Learn how to write different types of people and study why a story does or doesn’t work.

Speaking of, what makes your story different? This is particularly important when it comes to selling your book, whether that’s to a publisher like Unbound or to a potential agent. What’s the hook? Why should people shell out for it? What’s the inherent value of your story? If you’re able to pinpoint exactly what makes your story unique (its USP: Unique Selling Point), that’ll make talking about it to other people a lot easier.

Have fun! This crime stuff can get pretty dark, so don’t forget to bring a little levity to proceedings. Even The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo threw in a few snippy one-liners to relieve the tension, and lightening the mood in places can actually have the added effect of making the dark stuff more impactful. Frollo’s line in The Hunchback Of Notre Dame is especially apt: “Wait between the lashes. Otherwise the old sting will dull him to the new.”

 

5 reasons I wrote Vicious Rumer

 

  • Because I’m an outsider. Sure, I’m white, I’m male, I’m relatively tall (or something) in a ridiculous society that values those things, but I’m also a nerdy gay guy who grew up feeling, for the most part, misunderstood and a little bit weird. That’s why Rumer is so important to me. She’s an extreme version of me – my dark twin; the twisted sister I never had. (I actually do have a sister, and she’s nothing like Rumer.)
  • Because I wanted to write about mothers and daughters. In Killing Rumer, Rumer’s mother is dead, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t write about their relationship. In fact, the fact that her mother is dead only complicates Rumer’s relationship with her even more. How do you argue with a dead person? Or figure out who you are?
  • Because I had an idea that terrified me. That idea was: what if you could transfer all of your bad karma into your unborn child? That’s what Rumer believes happened to her, and it’s a pretty horrific thing to believe about yourself. I wanted to explore how that belief shaped her and influenced every decision Rumer’s ever made.
  • Because I wanted to write something with no easy answers. Is Rumer cursed? Why does a gangster want her dead? Is it possible to change who you are? Is something true just because you believe it? They’re all questions I chucked around while writing Killing Rumer. There may be answers, there may not, but that’s sort of up to you to decide.
  • Because it was fun! There’s tons of dark stuff going on in Killing Rumer, but it’s also a gleefully lean thriller with loads of twists, funny characters and crazy set-pieces. It was an absolute blast to write (I scribbled the first draft over a feverish eight months) and, hopefully, that also makes it a blast to read.

Pre-order your copy of Vicious Rumer here!

Charmed Rewitch: Episode 8 – The one where Prue looks like Nicolas Cage

It’s been over 10 years since the Halliwells hung up their brooms, so I’m heading back to San Francisco to see if Charmed‘s special brand of supernatural entertainment still casts a spell…

Episode: 2.05 ‘She’s A Man, Baby, A Man!’
Writer: Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Director: Martha Mitchell

charmed_s2e05_800x450Did it just get hot in here? Between all the sweaty cleavages, gorgeous men-folk and Phoebe proclaiming she’s “aroused” every ten seconds, it’s a wonder the cast and crew made it through this episode at all. Thank goodness they did, though, because with its sexy themes, memorable female villain and snappy banter, ‘She’s A Man, Baby, A Man!’ is one of the show’s most entertaining (and yes, sweatiest) hours.

See, a heatwave’s hit San Francisco and Phoebe’s burning up. Supernaturally. She keeps having saucy dreams about seducing hot guys, but the dreams all end with her killing them. Instead of this being a return for season one’s duff Dream Sorcerer (god forbid), it turns out she’s psychically linked to a succubus, a spurned witch who’s mating with horny men in order to fill her wardrobe with eggs (that’s not a euphemism).

Meanwhile, Piper’s blissfully unaware that neighbour Dan likes her as much as she likes him, and Prue’s baffled when a date says he’ll call and then actually does (go figure). And with Morris asking the girls for help tracking down the hunk hacker, he’s getting closer to the Halliwells’ secret than ever.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also the small matter of Prue being turned into a man. Yes (baby), a man. After a spell backfires (shades of ‘Which Prue Is It, Anyway?’ here), she finds herself sans boobs and avec ween, which sends her sisters into fits of giggles and, despite her startling resemblance to a young Nicolas Cage, they rename Prue ‘Manny Hanks’ for the rest of the episode.

The ‘Prue as man’ plot is a spectacularly subversive twist for a show that was all-too-often accused of putting its stars in the skimpiest of outfits. (“The joke was they would always promote the show as Tits And Witches,” showrunner Brad Kern said in 2006. “Like, what are you doing?”) By covering Shannen Doherty up in man-shirts and facial hair (the make-up artist used a picture of Doherty’s then-boyfriend as inspiration), the show’s whole dynamic changes, and the episode cleverly toys with the question: what would’ve happened if the Halliwells had a brother?

2.5So Piper gets annoyed at Man-Prue’s bullish nature (forgetting she’s always like that) and there’s some laugh-out-loud physical humour in Prue attempting to emulate Dan’s manliness (“How about those niners?”). This is Charmed with its thinking cap on – there’s even a great, grisly villain whose modus operandi (a strangulating tongue) is brilliantly/disturbingly phallic.

After their patchy first season, the Charmed writers had clearly been thinking about what they wanted the show to be, and the first half of season two features some of its most innovative ideas. This is just one of them and, despite indulging in the season’s soapier elements (was anybody ever really rooting for Piper and Dan?), it opens up a fun discussion about how miscommunication and misunderstanding go hand-in-hand.

It’s particularly interesting to compare this episode with season eight’s ‘Battle Of The Hexes’. Where that Billie-centric episode regurgitated many of this hour’s sentiments, it did it with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. With ‘She’s A Man, Baby, A Man!’, Charmed struck an impressive balance between Paul Verhoeven-esque raunchiness and Species-style body horror. Perhaps most impressive: it boasts an ‘equal rights’ approach to gender politics that argues that, when it comes to matters of the heart, men and women really are as bad as each other.

Missed an episode? Catch up on the other Charmed Rewitches here.

Premium Rush (2012)

David Koepp has been the brains behind some of Hollywood’s smartest action thrillers, having scripted everything from Jurassic Park and Mission: Impossible to Spider-Man and Panic Room. Premium Rush is the scribe’s fifth directing gig and a departure from his brainiest tension-ekers – as the film’s title suggests, Rush is less about the grey matter and more about the intoxicating adrenaline kick.

Set entirely on the streets of New York, Rush follows bike messenger Wilee (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he takes on a job delivering a package for Nima (Jamie Chung). When he’s accosted by Bobby (Michael Shannon), Wilee begins to suspect he’s carrying something very important – a suspicion that’s confirmed when Bobby turns out to be a crooked cop who’ll stop at nothing to get his hands on Wilee’s package (so to speak).

Zipping through the Big Apple on his two-wheeler, Gordon-Levitt is a likeably unconventional action hero. It’s not the kind of role JGL’s best known for, but the one-time Third Rock From The Sun actor has star quality to spare, and he turns the wattage up considerably for a role that’s as lean as the film itself.

Behind the camera, Koepp generally knows what he’s doing, too. The visuals are sleek and inventive, with tongue-in-cheek ‘hazard prediction’ sequences recalling Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films. Taking its cue from other NY-lover /Spider-Man/, Rush looks gorgeous and its sun-soaked streets vibrate with a fist-pumping soundtrack that includes The Who and My Chemical Romance.

You’ll want to leave your brain at the door, though – Rush’s attempts at a city-wide conspiracy are ambitious at best, convoluted at worst. When it comes to humour and breathless action, though, it generally delivers the goods. Fittingly, Koepp’s film is not unlike a sugar rush – it’s fun while it lasts, but it’s pretty forgettable once it’s over.  3/5

Via Out In The City