Not many of us, I hope, have witnessed a murder, and although we have probably seen plenty on TV and in films, writing about them is very different. It can feel very real on a screen but writing murder scenes is hard to do effectively.
Listening to Dr. Emma Donnelly, a consultant clinical forensic psychologist, in a Crime Writer’s Association event called Minds for Murder: the psychology of killing, made me think about all the things writers have to consider when writing about murder. Murderers don’t usually kill someone because they are crazy. This does happen sometimes but it is more likely that a character’s backstory has a huge influence on their actions. Emma says that it’s usually a killer’s backstory along with a combination of triggers that create a perfect storm leading to violence.
When writing about your violent character, you have to dig deep into their backstory. Was your character abandoned by their parents? Were the parents disinterested in their child? Was violence part and parcel of your character’s childhood?
What other things does the writer have to take into consideration when writing about crime and murder? I have put together some links to articles and podcasts on this topic.
This article is from Gary Rodgers, who spent years working as a homicide investigator and a forensic coroner. He gives the writer great advice on what to keep in mind and has ten top tips for writing believable crime stories.
There are a few cast-iron conditions that authors need to respect when writing about murder. Here it is recommended that you plot backwards. The answer to the mystery needs to feel like realisation, not revelation.
This is a fascinating article about what writers need to know about death, dying, and murder. Topics such as stabbing someone is not as simple as it looks in the movies, and dead bodies are not easy to make vanish, are discussed along with plenty of other things for the writer to consider.
Watching a murder on screen is very real, and it’s harder to create the same feeling when reading about a murder. It’s difficult to replicate the speed of a gunshot or the blind, chaotic feeling of a fight. Here they take a scene and break down what works well. Using simple sentence construction to convey the choreography and keeping the information plain is advised. A writing exercise is given along with four tips to do it well.
Motives for murder are explained in this article, including revenge, obsession, and the need to protect personal status.
Savannah Gilbo discusses how writers can create plot twists that surprise even the cleverest of readers.
Your violent character must represent something greater than themselves. What does the murderer represent? What does the protagonist represent? Lots of tips and advice from the story grid about this.
This article is very interesting when considering the backstory of your character. What has happened to them in the past that has contributed to them becoming a murderer? What causes a hurt child to become a violent adult?
Murder One is the podcast of Ireland’s international crime writing festival. Best-selling crime writer Sam Blake presents some of the world’s biggest authors talking crime, crime fiction, and true crime.
This podcast encourages the writer to ‘use death as an impactful narrative tool rather than a momentary source of drama.’
Reading deep into this genre will help you immensely as a writer. Listening to true crime podcasts can also help, not only with ideas but with how the crimes played out. I hope this week’s column has been helpful for you. If there are any particular writing topics you want me to cover, please get in touch.
(c) Lucy O’Callaghan