6 Mistakes Crime Writers Make That Kill Their Writing–Guest Blogger

14 Jul

“Hearing shouts, the overweight cop came running, doughnut in hand, as the victim’s head exploded like a ripe tomato.”

1.  “I’ll be the bad cop, you be the good cop.”  Yawn.  That’s about as tired and overused a cliché as giving the cop a box of doughnuts.  Other over-the-top examples: car chases, sleazy defense lawyers, and the pathologist findings that neatly wrap up a plot.

2.  “Johnny, the third bad guy on the scene, shot Sally, the shorter SWAT team member in the kneecap with his Beretta right before he was fatally shot in the heart by Tony, the rival gang leader.” Shoot ‘em ups can be dramatic and add a certain excitement to a story.  After all, Raymond Chandler’s advice to crime writers still rings true – “If your plot is flagging, have a man come in with a gun.”  But throw in more than two characters and readers will either be lost or worse yet, give up.

3.  Ever since the episode of CSI where the vulture dropped an eyeball into a martini glass like an overripe olive, I’ve been wary of food/body analogies.  Nobody’s head explodes like a watermelon, and it’s bad writing to say it does.
4.  It’s not the plot that carries the story, it’s the people.  The story won’t matter if we don’t care about the characters.  Janet Evanovich’s stories of Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter, would fall flat without Stephanie’s meddling parents, loopy grandmother, chintzy cousin Vinnie, and dashing detective Joe Morelli.  Those secondary characters are not only fun, but they show different sides of Stephanie.  On its own, the plot is abstract; it requires the characters to make it real and make it matter to the reader.  The stakes of the plot must matter to the characters in order for us to care as readers.
5.  “Hint, hint, wink, wink. PSSSSTT…THIS IS THE RED HERRING!” Readers can tell when they’re being sold a red herring, an obvious attempt to divert attention from the “real” killer.  Trust your readers to be sophisticated enough to think about more than one thing at a time and to seriously consider multiple possibilities throughout your story.  Nobody wants to read a book where they can guess the ending by the fourth chapter.

6.  Only use ridiculous plotlines and situations if you can pull it off.  Characters around Stephanie Plum can be goofy because humor is a critical part of the series.  Cat detectives and vampires may seem absurd, but once the reader accepts the premise, there still must be certain boundaries in play.  For example, the cat may solve crimes, but the cat doesn’t fly.

We’ve all read books where the murder weapon was a statue made to slide off its base with an application of honey, so that it fell directly upon the victim, who happened to be standing on exactly the right spot at exactly the right time. Plots that rely on amazing acts of coincidence insult your reader.

This guest post was contributed by Angie Best-Boss, an award-winning writer and author who has written extensively on helping students find the right psychology degree.

Angie can be reached at:


Posted by on July 14, 2010 in Guest Blogger, Writing


5 responses to “6 Mistakes Crime Writers Make That Kill Their Writing–Guest Blogger

  1. Linda Faulkner

    July 15, 2010 at 1:41 pm

    Great advice, Angie. Especially about the Plum series. I LOVE that series BUT, if Janet Evanovich didn’t do humor so well, and if she didn’t do it in a way that we KNOW she’s deliberately overdoing, it would definitley fall flat.

    Sometimes, during the process of being creative, we get carried away. I think readers of mystery/crime/thirllers are less forgiving of the frivolity than readers in other genres.


  2. J.D.

    July 15, 2010 at 6:08 pm

    This is good stuff. These are things that when we read them we say “Of course!”, as if we knew the list all along. Yet when I’m sailing through my original draft or doing a rewrite with blinders on, it’s easy to make terrible gaffes. I may stick this list to my screen next time I start. Thank you.


  3. Pat Harrington

    July 28, 2010 at 8:28 am

    Have to agree with Angie, and also the other respondents. Does make me immediately think, “Oh, oh! Am I doing that right now . . . almost right now, as I noodle about the next segment of my mystery. Love the concept of mysteries being set on a three-legged stool. The legs are plot, character and setting. And characters, to me, come out of their settings, old and recent; and how they act and react, creates a large measure of the plot. ‘Nuff now now. Cheers in mystery!

    Pat H.


  4. jonjermey

    July 28, 2010 at 2:26 pm

    “It’s not the plot that carries the story, it’s the people. ”

    Then it’s a poor story. There are innumerable examples from the Golden Age where the flat poorly described characters don’t matter because the investigation is so interesting. If you can’t make your investigation interesting enough to grip the reader by itself then you should either prune a couple of hundred pages from your books or give up writing detective fiction altogether and take up romance.


  5. Elle

    January 29, 2015 at 5:02 am

    Reblogged this on ELLEWORLD and commented:
    Going to remember not to do these in my own writing.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: