Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Doin' Crime with the Sydney Writers' Festival

This Sunday I'm spending Mother's Day at the beautiful NSW State Library giving a workshop as part of the Sydney Writers' Festival. The workshop is entitled - Doin' Crime.

For many writers getting the crime right is an intimidating prospect. How much insider knowledge will you need to make it authentic?  Should you plot and plan, or make it up as you go along?

My approach is that crime works as both a framing device that can help to give you the spine of the plot but more importantly the crime is an opportunity to develop character and setting.

Although a crime might lend itself well to the plotting of a novel, it is not a substitute for story.

In my reading and writing of crime it has always been the why of the crime that  has been intrinsically more interesting and has offered more emotional depth than the who dunnit, or even the how dunnit.

So, in putting together this workshop I came up with some questions to work through which will allow us to look at using crime to give us plot and structure and more:

What is needed to solve this crime? 
This involves thinking about the elements or legal proofs of the crime, clues, evidence, witnesses, physical material, alibis, motives, means etc?

How will my characters solve this crime? 
This involves making decisions about who knows what, who did what, who will discover what, and how they will discover it? It involves considering what obstacles the characters will face in solving the crime and how to weave the crime into a story and a plot. 

Whilst those questions involve using the crime as a way to frame plot and structure, the last question is the one that will provide the layers and depth to the tale.

Why tell the story of this crime? 
What does the choice of crime tell you about the characters, about the setting of the story? This involves thinking about the crime as more than just a plot device that pushes your characters around a chessboard. The crime should arise out of the characters and the place and be intrinsic to them.

I've spent the last few days assembling some teaching aids - such as the opening sequence of The Wire:

I think there's a lot that crime writers can learn from The Wire - something I've blogged about previously here at The Concrete Midden.

Closer to home we'll be having a look at some of the best bits of Blue Murder for that authentically Australian feel:

And in order to show how things change on the writing, rewriting, drafting, redrafting of a book I've been looking back over the very early notes I made on the idea that became The Old School.

It was amazing to see how much changed along the way and how much stayed the same.

There were still a few tickets available at the time of writing, so if you fancy spending Sunday talking crime at the State Library then you can book through the Sydney Writers' Festival pages.

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