Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Art of Murder (Writing)

I love murder! I should qualify that statement by saying I love a good mystery and if it includes a dead body or two in the library, so much the better! From Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s canny detective to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, to Midsomer Murder’s Detective Chief Inspector Tom Barnaby, to the slew of murder and mystery thriller writers on the shelves today, each writer has something fascinating to offer in the way of (dare I say that word again?) murder. But how about the authors of murderous writing? Do they all write the same? Are all murder mysteries the same? No, there are rules and shades of differentiation. Here’s the opinion of an expert who is my guest today. Please welcome Shelia Lowe, author of the Claudia Rose Forensic Handwriting series. Her titles are compelling, just demanding to be read: Poison Pen, Written in Blood, Dead Write, and Last Writes.

What makes Sheila an expert is her more than 35 years experience in the field of handwriting. The author of Handwriting of the Famous & Infamous, and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Handwriting Analysis, her analyses of celebrity handwritings have appeared in Time, Teen People, and Mademoiselle. Her articles on Personality Profiling and Handwriting Analysis for the Attorney have been published in several bar association magazines. Her expertise in forensic graphology makes her the perfect author for her Forensic Handwriting series.

I was fascinated to find that Forensic Graphology is the study of handwriting especially that found in ransom notes, poison pen letters or blackmail demands. Although this is a recognised and called upon scientific technique Forensic Graphology cannot tell a person's age or sex from the handwriting. What it can do however is give indications as to the person's state of mind at the time of producing a particular document, be it a blackmail letter, a poison pen letter or a suicide note. In addition, you can tell a lot about a person by the way they write—or more importantly—in the words they write. It has become commonplace now for us as individuals to write in the same manner as we speak, using abbreviations, slang and colloquialisms that vary from person to person and indeed place to place. These are important and a Graphologist can make good use of these things during the investigative process. So the next time you’re writing that blackmail note… be afraid … be very afraid!

Let’s hear it from Shelia Lowe about The Art of Murder (Writing)

Who doesn’t love a good mystery? With six of the top ten hardcover fiction books on the New York Times bestseller list in the mystery/crime genre, clearly, many readers do. And since my own mystery series has been published over the past four years, I’ve learned that a very large number of people are interested in getting their own mysteries published, too.

I’ve heard it said that there are three rules in mystery writing...but nobody knows what they dum bum. Seriously, all fiction requires plotting, characterization, setting, dialogue, and point of view, but the mystery genre has some other special stuff of its own. But before you even get to those things, you’ll need to know what subgenre you are writing. Subgenre affects who your audience—your all-important market is going to be. The subgenres include soft-boiled cozy (traditional) mysteries, medium-boiled psychological suspense, and hard-boiled gritty noir, police procedurals, thrillers. Who knew it could get so complicated?

In cozy mysteries there is little or no on-scene violence, bad language or, heaven forbid s-e-x. Cozies feature an amateur sleuth who is an ordinary person, such as Jessica Fletcher of Murder She Wrote, or Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. The sleuth knows the people who are involved in the mystery and the story is typically set in a village or a small community where there is a limited pool of suspects. There’s generally a puzzle that has to be solved in order to get the bad guy or gal, which is why cozies are sometimes known as “locked room mysteries.” For example, how did the killer do his deadly deed when the door to the room where the body is found is locked from the inside and there are no other exits?

Police procedurals have a protagonist who works in law enforcement, usually a police detective, such as Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch. The detective follows police procedures (or doesn’t, and gets his butt kicked by his superiors as a result), and often has personal problems to deal with, such as alcohol or drug abuse, several troublesome ex-spouses, and run-ins with authority figures in the department.

Thrillers are fast-paced, action-oriented, and tend to be more graphically violent. Think Jason Bourne. The reader may know from the outset who the bad guy is—a spy or terrorist, perhaps—and we might see him plotting some horrible crime that is going to affect an entire population. The larger scale plot is the polar opposite from the setting of the cozy.

In stories of psychological suspense, character is emphasized more than plot. Thus, there may be less physical action, but a closer focus on who the various characters are and their reasons for doing what they do. My own Forensic Handwriting Series falls into this subgenre. My protagonist, Claudia Rose, is drawn into each plot through her clients. She doesn’t solve crimes with handwriting analysis, but she does learn about the motivations of the various people who populate the stories.

Once you’ve figured out your subgenre, you’ll have to figure out the crime, the precipitating event. Then, there are the subplots, the suspects, and the red herrings you’ll plant, making sure there is tension on every page. But those are subjects for another blog.

I will certainly be featuring Sheila again to learn more about those subgenres! Thanks for sharing those words of wisdom with us. Interested readers can visit Sheila’s site, and find the Amazon links to her books.


Jacqueline Vick said...

It's always great to hear a fresh breakdown of subgenres. I submitted what I thought was a cozy to an editor and she told me I had a "tradional" mystery on my hands!

Sheila Lowe said...

Hey Jackie,
Did you ask her what's the difference???