Get your FREE pdf eBook How to Write Deadly Crime Thrillers – A No BS Guide with 101 Killer Tips. Enter your email address in the header, sidebar, or the form at the bottom of this page. Here’s the first 12 tips.
What’s in this for you?
You’re probably a crime thriller writer or you wouldn’t be reading this. And because you’re reading it, you obviously want to get something from it.
What I’m giving you is my writing experience from three careers. One as a homicide detective. Second as a forensic coroner. And now, as a bestselling crime writer.
Writing crime fiction is like investigating murders. You deal with lies.
Everyone lies to the police. Complainants lie. Witnesses lie. Lawyers lie. Believe it or not, even the crooks lie to the cops.
Homicide investigators are extremely good at detecting lies. They’re human lie detectors. And they know that to get people to cooperate in investigations, there has to be something in it for them—just like there has to be something in this for you.
I’m giving you 101 tips on how to effectively lie to people. Because, as a fiction writer, that’s what you do. You lie to your reader. Your reader signs-on for a pack of lies when she buys into your story, and you owe her an excellent load of excrement in return.
It’s called “suspension of disbelief.” That’s what your fiction writing must do. Your reader must get so immersed in the story that she forgets it’s all lies. The best stories string her along so well that she can’t put it down, and that’s the best compliment you, as a writer, can ever get. So you have to be really good at getting away with telling lies.
By the way, I want something from you in return and I’ve snuck it into one of the tips. You’ll have to read on to find out what I want.
And no, I won’t bullshit you. I used to be a cop for God’s sakes. I might not have been a very good one, but that’s beside the point.
Here’s your No BS Guide with 101 Killer Tips on How To Write Deadly Crime Thrillers.
Part One — The Science of Story
Tip #1 — Understand Story
A story is about what happens (Plot) that affects people (Characters) who are trying to achieve a difficult goal (Conflict) and how they change as a result (Resolution).
Tip #2 — Understand Storytelling
Storytelling is about communicating what’s happening. Humans are inherently curious creatures and, to keep your reader in the story, you must keep her constantly wondering about what’s coming next.
Tip #3 — Understand The Crime Thriller Genre
Crime Thrillers involve sensational murders with huge overtones. People are fascinated about these types of murders for the same reason they can’t avoid looking at horribly gruesome accident scenes. Like they say in the news business, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Being killed is the worst thing that could happen, and it’s your reader’s instinct to want to know what will happen, especially in perilous situations.
As a Crime Thriller genre writer, your job is to give your reader what she wants in a way she doesn’t expect. Successful crime thriller writers know the conventions that make-up the story’s genre or classification.
When setting out a crime thriller, it’s vitally important to consider what kinds of expectations your story creates, so you can gratify readers in surprising ways. Remember—every agent and editor is a reader, too.
Suspense fiction is composed of three main genres—mystery, crime, and thriller. Each has its own sub-genres and individual expectations. Managing the reader’s expectations is the core of genre.
Mystery, on the mild left of the spectrum, deals with the question “What did happen?” Mysteries can be cozy or hard-boiled—both having reader expectations that a crime will be solved and the truth revealed. Mysteries are the most cerebral of suspense stories. They have good vs. bad themes and problems to solve.
Crime, in the center, questions “What is happening?” Crime stories have dramatic plots that go from bad to worse. Sub-genres are police procedural, noir, legal/courtroom dramas, and scientific, medical, or forensic settings. A crime has been committed and the perpetrator must be brought to justice.
Thriller, on the spectrum’s roaring right, asks “What is going to happen?” Thrillers are emotional rides with a ticking clock and terrible trouble looming, or it’s over for the hero. Thriller categories include epic, psychological, and supernatural stories with plots of increasing doom and danger.
Crime Thrillers are a hybrid genre which make the reader ponder all three central story questions. A crime thriller asks “How does the perpetrator of the crime impact the other characters as they face increasing obstacles in moving perilously towards the solution?” Invariably, a sensational crime occurred and another one is on its way, which is why serial killings are the most popular storylines for crime thrillers.
Crime thrillers mix the wonder of a murder mystery with the tension, heat, suspense, threat, and white-knuckle excitement of a thriller. Think of them as a mystery on Viagara. Readers of the genre have clear expectations that the plot and characters are complex, the crime is solved in a realistic way, the pace is fast, and the solution isn’t going be pretty.
Writers who stumble into the crime thriller genre without understanding what readers, editors, and agents expect are cooking a recipe for disaster. However, if you know what’s on the menu, and find a way to serve it on a platter they’ve never seen, it’ll result in the biggest tip you’ve ever received.
Tip #4 — Understand Cops & Crimes
Joseph Wambaugh, one of the best crime writers, says, “The best stories aren’t about how cops work on cases, but about how cases work on cops.” Police officers are normal human beings with emotions. Some crimes are truly horrific and there comes a breaking point for even the toughest. I know of dozens who died early from excessive drinking, smoking, and suicide. Many police officers suffer from degrees of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Some cops are religious. Most are family orientated. And the vast majority are more loyal to their individual comrades than to their overall force. Don’t make your police characters super humans. Make them flawed in the same way we are in real life.
Tip #5 — Activate Your Reader’s Brain
Humans are hardwired for story. We think and learn in stories. We have a primal need to know what’s going down in order to work our flight or fight survival instinct. Stimulating your reader’s desire to know what’s happening subconsciously fires neurons in her brain, which releases dopamine, nature’s crack, and chemically sucks her into the story. She gets immense pleasure from going along for the ride.
Tip #6 — Give Your Reader What She Needs
Stories allow your reader to simulate intense experiences without actually having to live through them. It’s like being shot at—without worrying about being hit. Stories give vital instructions on how to survive in life, allowing your reader to become the characters without ever leaving the safety of home. She needs to feel what the people in the story feel—for her entertainment and her protection.
Tip #7 — Balance Right & Left Brain
Stories engage the left side of the brain to process words and sequence of plot. The right brain handles imagination and visualization. The best told stories balance the brain’s natural ability to look for, recognize, and match patterns, giving your reader those critical and so-satisfying “Ah-Ha!” moments.
Tip #8 — Study Neuro-Linguistics
Mind language is an amazing science that underlies storytelling. Neuro refers to what’s happening in the mind. Linguistics is how communicating through words influences the mind. It’s the art and science of communicating. The best form of getting a message across is by stimulating your reader’s senses.
Tip #9 — Apply Neuro-Linguistics
The right words, and the right sequence of words, activate your reader’s neurological system. This affects her physiology, emotions, and behavior. When she makes sense of your story, she believes in its world. She captures and conceptualizes the experience. It’s what makes her say, “I couldn’t put it down.”
Tip #10 — Give Pleasure, Avoid Pain
Humans are pleasure-seeking, pain-avoiding animals. We go to extreme lengths to achieve this in life. It’s the same for your reader. She expects a pleasurable experience from your story, even when it opens with blood & guts. If she doesn’t enjoy a pleasurable state quickly into it, she’s going to put-it-down and forget about it. If it becomes painful, she’s going to slam-it-down, and then slam you on Goodreads.
Part Two — Telling the Story
Tip #11 — Do Not Come Lightly To The Page
Be honest. Be original. Be brutally in their face. Your job is to tell it like it is. To hell with offending anyone. Say what the story’s message is. The best stories challenge social norms.
Tip #12 — Write For One, Publish For A Million
To be authentic, you have to quit giving a shit about what anyone thinks of your work while you write. Let it come right from the depths of your bowels as if you’re the only one who’s ever going to read it. But when you edit and go to publish, assume that you’re going to make the bestseller list once it’s shipped. It’s your responsibility as an author to produce a professionally published product.
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