Hard-Boiled Crime Fiction
This is the opposite of the ‘Cosy’ crime. The cosy crime being able to be read by young children. The ‘Hard-Boiled’ novel has terrible language, maybe a sexual encounter and the book is covered in blood dripping onto your lap. The gory details are graphic and intense. These stories are not very violent, but the results of violence are imaged.
The term ‘Hard-Boiled’ was started in the 1920s California. The Protagonist detective should have some significant flaws that need to hinder the capture of the criminal, but we have the impression that the detective knows and has an absolute sense of what is right and wrong.
It is possible to have some fun with dreaming up some buried and embedded flaws for the detective.
Unlike the ‘cosy’ sub-genre the hard-boiled sub-genre would need a lot of research into violent crime, forensics, blood splatter, and wounds.
1. A reader must have the same opportunity with the investigator for solving the crime. All the clues must be plainly stated and reported.
2. No deliberate tricks or dishonesty may be placed on a reader other than those performed legitimately by the perpetrator on the detective.
3. There must be no love engagement. The profession in hand is to bring a perpetrator to the bar of justice, but not to bring a lovelorn pair to their wedding
4. The detective themselves, or one of the official police investigators, should never turn out to be the offender. This is plain trickery, on a par with offering someone a penny for a ten-pound note. It’s false pretences.
5. The offender must be concluded by logical reasoning — not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated admission.
6. A detective novel must have a detective in it, and a detective is not a detective unless he or she detects. Their purpose is to collect clues that will ultimately lead to the person who did the dirty work in the first chapter being apprehended. If the detective does not reach their conclusions through an investigation of those clues, he has no more solved the problem than the pupil who gets their answer out of the back of the arithmetic textbook.
7. There frankly must be a corpse in a detective novel. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. A couple of hundred pages is far too much bother for a crime other than a murder, or a few. After all, the reader’s task and investment of energy must be rewarded.
8. The puzzle of the crime must be solved by naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic seances, crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. The reader has a chance when matching his wits with a typical detective, but if they must compete with the world of ghosts and go chasing around metaphysics, they are surely defeated.
9. There must be only one detective — that is, but one protagonist.
10. The offender must turn out to be a person who has acted a more or less prominent part in the story (antagonist) that is, a character with whom the reader is familiar and in whom they take an interest.
11. The butler or servant should not be made by the author as the culprit. This is begging the question; it is a too easy solution. The culprit must be a decidedly worth-while person — one that would not ordinarily come under suspicion.
12. There must only be but one offender, no matter how many murders are perpetrated.
Things that are at stake must be important. This might be a character’s life or living, a long-held dream or something else, but it cannot be immaterial. Moreover, over the course of the novel, the stakes must go up rather than stay the same or decrease. For example, a crime novel might begin with a police detective being given a murder case. Over the course of the story, your detective’s job could start to rest on determining this single crime, and the detective’s matrimony might begin to suffer. The stakes become higher than the initial motives for solving the crime.
Another example of raising stakes: an amateur detective starts out interested in solving a crime. Over time, the protagonist’s loved ones might become potential targets of the antagonist. This format of raising stakes was used successfully by the writers of TV’s crime thriller series ‘Dexter’. Suddenly the protagonist’s action has much higher stakes.
Understanding with the Reader
You can only build suspense if the reader trusts you to play fair. Build the reader’s trust by fulfilling any promises that you make throughout the book. This means you must follow through on any significant set-ups. This might feel tricky in the context of red herrings, but red herrings are not so much intended to trick as to mislead the readers. In other words, red herrings must always have an alternate explanation so that the reader does not feel cheated and remains within the suspension of disbelief.
If you spend a lot of time on some detail so that it seems like it is going to be significant and then you abandon it, your reader will undoubtedly feel frustrated. On the other hand, if you show your reader early on that your set-ups pay off, then you can build suspense with longer and more complex set-ups with story arcs across the entire novel and sustain your reader’s interest throughout your book.
All of this foreshadowing and suspense-building, that we spoke of in recent blogs, does little if the reader does not care about what happens in the climax of your novel. The best way to make sure that the reader cares is by creating strong characters that are real to the reader. When characters feel real, the reader will care what happens to them and about the suspenseful situations they encounter. Characters’ behaviour should seem reasonably plausible to the reader.
Building suspense requires mastering some writing techniques. It also requires making sure that you have engaging characters whose challenges matter to them and your readers. Suspense needs conflict and drama to grow. Compressing time or limiting the character’s freedom or means in some other way can help build suspense. Planting false clues via red herrings that leave the reader and characters unsure as to who can be trusted is also useful. Authors writing crime fiction must create a strong motivation for readers to invest in seeing suspenseful setups through to their conclusion.
‘Red herrings’ are hints that intentionally deceive readers, and they can be used to a great effect in writing crime fiction. For example, one red herring may include the murderer’s identification. David Lynch’s TV show Twin Peaks made commanding use of this method. If you have created several likely suspects, the reader may become particularly engrossed when the protagonist is alone with any of them.
You might plan your red herrings so that there are some possible alternatives answers. If you just produce one red herring, then the savvy suspense follower might see it coming, but if you include multiple ones, you may keep readers guessing.
Red herrings do not just link to murder suspects. Just about anything could be a red herring including a piece of information or a situation. As an example, you could create a series of red herrings as a protagonist is walking down a road at night. The protagonist might think a man is trailing her, but he ends up entering a regional restaurant. A little while later she might think she overhears his footsteps again, but it’s only a part of newspaper scudding behind her.
Also, red herrings can work with other elements to develop suspense:
Foreshadowing, atmosphere and mood
Foreshadowing includes suggestions of things that may happen. It may be direct or indirect. For example, an example of indirect foreshadowing might be the protagonist’s arrival at a house during a terrible storm (a well-known cliché). The storm is a suggestion of the awful occurrence the protagonist may have if a crime is perpetrated at the house.
Moreover, for politicians, red herrings do come in handy as they use them repeatedly to dodge difficult questions in a conversation or an argument. They do it by referring to a different issue, which of course is irrelevant, to sidetrack from the original subject under discussion.
Unfolding your novel within a tight timeframe is one of the most significant methods for developing suspense. Whether your protagonist is in a one day race against time like Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code or has a total of 61 hours to rescue the day like Jack Reacher in the novel by Lee Child, putting your protagonist on a ticking stopwatch will likely make readers turn more pages.
Traps to be cautious of in a time-focused path to writing crime fiction, or a short story, like my last published story ‘Newton’s Second Damn Law’. One is that effective suspense requires some set-up. If you have ever been through an extended period of very high stress, you know that there comes the point where you begin to disengage from the situation to reduce stress. The same thing can happen with fiction. It’s seldom useful to sustain a constant mood of highest-level suspense for the entire duration of a novel. Giving your protagonist a short period to solve a problem is an excellent approach to building suspense but be sure to create contrasts. Downtime offers readers a chance to take their breath. It can even calm them into a false sense of security as you construct the next surprise that will leave them more interested and invested.
The other issue you must deal with is the implication of having something unfold in a short period. Your protagonist could be on the run for 48 hours, but is there time to drink, eat or sleep? If not, what effect will all this have? As I’ve said in previous blogs; be sure that you do not reach beyond your readers’ suspension of disbelief.
Providing your character with a limited amount of time to solve a problem is a great way to build suspense, but you can place constraints on your protagonist that increase tension in other ways as well:
Writing crime fiction that transpires in a limited physical space is another efficient way to create pressure. 12 Angry Men, is set in a one room with the jury of a murder case for the whole of the 96 minute movie. Stephen King explores this in some of his novels: trapped in a car by a rabid dog, is in Cujo, a woman and her son and Gerald’s Game handcuffed to the bed is a woman. The principal characters in the Elizabeth Engstrom novel ‘Lizard Wine’ are snowbound in the car with a menacing ex-convict.
It is also possible to challenge your character in other ways, too. The protagonist of King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon cannot find their way within the woods. If your protagonist is in a different country where they cannot speak the language or has run out of money, what happens? By reducing the possibilities available to your main character, you will create suspense.
Once, I wrote the first draft of a short story that stank so bad; I had to open up a window while reading it.
I felt like ripping it up or pressing delete and then beginning again.
I spent a long time to discover the job of your first draft is to be, and it’s ok if your writing is lousy and unedited.
It’s a good thing that my first drafts are for me alone, and yours should be too.
You will sit down to write the first draft; you will likely lack self-confidence or feel indifferent to what you’re about to make.
You may likely feel that you’re writing and feeling stupid.
Most successful authors seldom experience a white-hot flash while working on their first drafts. A lot of writers question themselves and think about pressing delete.
They don’t do that though.
Alternatively, there’s a determined (and coffee caffeinated) person plugging away at his or her manuscript one word at a time, looking at their word-count and all the while thinking:
“It’ll do for now”, “I’m almost there”, “I can fix this later.”
You can fix it later too, but wait, you’ve got to finish your first draft.
You’ve got to reach the end and stop reorganising your outline or having the ‘Shiny new Idea syndrome’.
With non-fiction books then the learning and expressing the subject of your manuscript would be essential. A fiction book is more or less the same. Wheather it’s in present-day or a few hundred years ago or in the future, then you need to be aware of currency, eating and drinking material. Off-world Sci-fi or fantasy also needs to be checked as you don’t want characters in a fictional world going for a chicken evening meal and paying for it in Dollars. You must spend time reading outside of your comfort zone, reading the work of authors you admire and the novels of authors you detest.
You must take notes, write down and learn to arrange your ideas before you start your book. I was asked on a writing course to study poetry. My first thoughts were, “Yuck, I hate poetry and will never write any.” But, I considered Shakespeare and looked into his work and discovered he was the Iambic Pentameter master (which is poetry and sonnet material), and that may be a reason his work is still loved 400 years after his death.
If you fail to feed your mind, then don’t expect it to serve you quality ideas when you next sit down in front of the blank page.
1. It’s so Easy to Talk About Writing a Book, But…
When I was at University, I used to read a lot of Raymond Chandler and Tom Clancy books about Philip Marlowe and Jack Ryan. I even went to see The Hunt for Red October at the cinema. I recently read Andy Weir’s The Martian and saw the movie, but the novel can set you in reality, and the film can only show you things that the filmmakers can provide. The one-third gravity being an example. I then saw Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit at the movies and thought as that was Jack Ryan I’m sure Tom Clancy wrote a novel. He didn’t as he died before that story had begun.
I started with an undercover agent in Russia, who was about to get instructions on a case. I did not plan or outline anything. The thought just occurred to me, so I began the novel, as I was Pantsing it. I finished the opening scene and then thought, “What happens now?” There is more to creating a story that imagination can give you in one moment, and it stopped there. What followed was a year and a half of deciding which type of outline and which sub-genre of crime fiction in which to write.
If you want somebody to read your text, you need to make sure that you’re presenting it as smooth as possible for them to do so. If someone feels lost while I’m reading your work—if the readers have no idea what the point is or where you’re going in the novel—they’re probably going to stop reading. Also, if I can’t skim your post to find the information I’m looking for, or to figure out if I do want to read the whole thing, Then they’re not likely to read the post.
How to fix this problem:
You should plan before you begin writing, what you’re going to write in the form of a brainstorm. You could write down all the points you’re going to make or the various subheadings you’re going to cover.
Then, as you’re writing, you should make sure there is a clear signpost to your text with including:
* an introduction telling your readers what you’re going to be speaking about
* subheadings for each position you make
* words that say to your reader what’s happening (e.g., ‘firstly’, ‘last’, etc.)
* a conclusion that wraps up what you’ve talked about and why it’s essential.