Modern crime writing

A lot of crime writers bemoan the modern era of smart phones, Google, Facebook and everything else that conspires to change the face of crime and detection. Some even go so far as to write retro-crime setting their books in a past period.

The changing face of crime

This link shows how much technology is changing criminal behaviour. To summarise, in about twenty years, the number of bank robberies in the UK dropped by around 90%. From better CCTV to screens that rise in under a second to smart water, the advantage has swung firmly towards the banks. If you add in the rise of internet banking meaning that there are fewer branches carrying less cash, you can see why the traditional bank hold-up is consigned to history.

Of course, criminals have never stopped wanting to separate people from their money. Much crime now is moving online. The last successful bank robbery I read about involved distracting a bank worker and attaching hardware to their computer terminal. This then interrupted network traffic and diverted money away from the rightful owners to the criminals’ accounts. Obviously this is a far cry from a traditional robbery and needed a lot of technical skill.

I’m catching up on a series (DI Tom Thorne by Mark Billingham) so currently I’m reading a book written in 2004. To me that doesn’t feel very long ago, but already we’ve had a video rental store owner talking about Blockbuster and complaining that no-one rewinds their rental tapes!

The only advice I think I’ve got is that you have to pick a date, write in that date and stick to your guns. If it appears dated later on, well you’d have to be thankful that people are still reading it and also just say that it adds authentic feeling to the piece!

The changing face of detection

The other side of the coin, the police service, is always changing too. I had a realisation the other day – the time when a lone Detective Inspector could solve a crime has passed. The image of an Inspector Morse figure driving around a classic car, listening to opera and solving crimes is as outdated as a bank robbery by men with stockings over their faces and sawn off shotguns!

Murders, especially serial killings, are now solved by Major Investigation Teams. There will be a senior officer at the helm, but he or she will be aided by a large team of both police and civilian helpers. Some TV programs (like Scott and Bailey) focus really well on the personal stories of a small number of protagonists, while still keeping the ensemble feel of a modern investigation.

In my Jonah Greene series, without realising I was doing it, I’ve found my own way around this problem so far. In the first book the death is not treated as suspicious, so a full MIT is not called together, leaving the protagonist to work on his own.

Now I’ve seen the problem, I am working on other ways to keep writing in the modern world but to keep the focus tight on a few major characters. But, for the minute, I’d like to keep my powder dry on those!

What do you think? Do you prefer really authentic modern crime novels? Or are you happier to delve into the past where it’s all more understandable?

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Where do you get your ideas from?

This must be one of the most common questions that writers get asked, so I thought I’d have a go at answering it.

Training Inspiration

I believe the brain is capable of being trained even in something as nebulous as creativity. I can’t find the quote now, but someone said “I write whenever my muse strikes, and I make sure that happens at nine every morning.” Let me explain a bit. I write crime mysteries. So, I pay attention the news. I scan the headlines. If I see something that piques my interest, I record it or buy the newspaper. I see what’s going on the world of the police, how real crimes unfold. I started off making it a conscious process, now it’s become second nature. It also helps that I have an enquiring nature and tend to look up and check anything I find interesting in case it comes in useful later.

A bit here and a bit there

Secondly, I don’t think I’ve ever had a flash of divine inspiration that allows for a whole book to be written. Instead I think of ideas. Sometimes it’s characters. I have had what I call a Harry Potter moment where a complete character arrives in my head. Other times, I indulge in playing “What if?”. My main interest in writing is asking “what happens next?”. If I read a book or watch a film, my brain keeps running another fifteen or twenty years past the end to imagine what would happen to those characters. It’s probably why a lot of my books feature the “what happened 20 or 25 or 30 years ago” style of plots.

I do keep notes (probably not as well as I could) about all these ideas. At the moment I’ve got a character that I’ve matched up with a crime for them to solve. I also have a really gruesome series of murders that would make a fantastic book, but at the moment I haven’t got a detective in mind to solve them! And I’m aware, because of the idea, it would be quite a departure from my usual style, so I don’t (at the moment) want to make it one of my current series. So, that idea is parked for now. I’m sure I’ll come back to it.

The same applies to characters. I collect traits of both appearance and personality (and sometimes phobias) – some are observed in people, others just come to mind. Then I combine them together in (hopefully) interesting ways that people can’t recognise in my friends(!)

Actually writing the book

As I’ve said before, I’m a great believer in planning. Partly that’s because I have a very busy life and with a solid plan, I can drop in and out of a draft. I can actually write as little as a few hundred words every day without losing track of what’s going on.

When I have a decent main character matched up with an interesting crime, I try to put it into a plot. I need at least two crisis points, some major setbacks and some breakthroughs. I check I’ve got a decent antagonist who the reader can understand if not agree with. Also needed at this stage is a strong cast of supporting actors and some good locations too. Plus a something extra to make it stand out from the crowd!

So, that’s where my ideas come from. I think I’m very fortunate in that I seem to have too many ideas. Well, fortunate in some ways – it is also very tiring! But at least I can skip over those courses and blog posts that suggest ways of generating ideas. For me it’s more a case of marshalling and herding the ideas into sensible patterns that make good books.

I know I have writer friends who read this blog. How do you get your ideas?

A blog post about blogging

So, once I got a publishing contract, I thought I’d better sort out my social media presence. What that means is blogging and tweeting on a regular schedule so that when my launch date rolls around (about six months give or take) I’d have some people to launch to.

Part of this plan was to publish a parenting blog post every Tuesday lunchtime and a writing post every Thursday lunchtime. Obviously, it’s now Friday morning and I’m still writing yesterday’s post.

Mind you, this is not all bad news. Now that I realise that people actually want to read what I write, my self-confidence has improved. I went back to Scrivener (a bit like MS Word but designed by authors to write books in) and found, to my surprise, that the sequel to the list actually had a structure and a few thousand words. I’d actually started in on it, before I got disheartened by the rejections, then forgot totally that I’d done it!

Anyway, the point I was trying to come around to is that my blog always suffers when I’m writing. And this week is no exception. I’ve whipped the outline for the List sequel into shape and now have a writing plan laid out.

The bad news is, I’m late with this blog. The good news is that the sequel has already grown by over 3,500 words since Monday.

I’m also learning about marketing as I go through the process to publication. One of the (more obvious) conclusions is that my digital output (Facebook, Twitter, here, etc.) should all have the aim of attracting and engaging readers. Now, the thing is that I love the process of writing, of plotting, of telling a story. That’s pretty much what this blog has been about so far.

So, I’m going to experiment. I’ll try steering more towards talking about the content of my books, the settings and characters. If I come across interesting facts in my research, I’ll use those for a blog post. Basically, gently move it in a more reader focused direction.

And, of course, comments are always very welcome, let me know what you’d like to see!