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How To Write Great Crime

This is the first in a series of three blogs by crime and screenwriter M. R. Hall. In this post, he poses questions that help guide your writing and then reveals how finding his righteous anger helped spur him on to finish his novel - and how finding yours can help you, too.

When I took my first tentative steps as a would-be writer, I benefited greatly from attending a number of courses. The ones that stood out above all others, were those dedicated to the mechanics of story telling and plot construction. These helped me turn the ideas churning in my head into something with a shape that started to take dramatic form. Learning the rules of drama was ultimately what turned aspiration into reality.

My first novel, The Coroner, was an exploration of an argument I’d been wanting to make for at least ten years – I’d started life as a criminal lawyer and been appalled at the way we treat juvenile offenders. I never felt locking up the most damaged kids was the answer to anything, and only damaged them further. It was a passion that drove me on through the hardest months of writing a novel, especially while the overdraft racked up! If there’s something that fills you with righteous anger, it’s a great place to start.

Have you got something profound and heartfelt to say? Try working through the following questions:

1.    What are the issues I feel most angry about or disturbed or intrigued by?

2.    Which of these issues has the most personal emotional resonance with me?

3.    When I think about this issue, what feelings and emotions do they arouse?

4.    Is this an issue with potential to engage a large audience emotionally? Why?

5.    Can I imagine a crime story or stories which will help me explore my feelings  about this issue?  (If not, try again with another of your answers to question 1.)

6    How does what I have to say about this issue differ from anything I have read elsewhere? (Or perhaps you are the first to write about it?)

7    What is the one original thing I want to say or bring to my readers’ attention?

M R Hall and fellow author William Ryan have teamed up with literary agent David Headley to teach a number of one-day Introduction to Crime Writing courses in which they aim to give you the basic toolkit to turn your initial inspiration into a properly plotted novel.

A free online course covering some of these fundamental principles (Seven Secrets of Successful Crime Writing) is also available.

Access it via M.R. Hall’s Facebook page.