Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Another Reason for Writing Crime Fiction

The writers I know write a wide variety of fiction and nonfiction but most of us have had some of the standard experiences of writers. We get the usual questions: Where do you get your ideas (a magazine, the daily newspaper, overheard conversations, random thoughts, or who knows)? Have you ever published anything? Are you famous? And, my all-time favorite: Would you like to write this great idea I have and split the royalties?

But what we don't tell our interlocutors is the tactile pleasure of writing crime fiction. For those who think this is one of those cerebral pastimes, akin to lounging with a box of Godiva chocolates, I offer the image of working a clay sculpture. I can't speak for other writers but I derive a deep satisfaction from working out the various physical aspects of a crime novel--the specific details of a landscape and how that will affect the protagonist (can she jump a fence, get through heavy underbrush without getting gored by thorns, walk the bank of a swollen river), the timing of activities she only learns about afterwards.

I write crime fiction without an outline, but I write it as though I were living the experience of it. For me writing crime fiction is one step from the real physical experience, and working out some of the details on paper is like working a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, with little slips of paper holding clues that have to be arranged just so on my desk.

So when that pesky student in a creative writing program is describing the wisdom of the writer and superiority of certain publishers, I'm finding that scarf tied around her neck a convenient device for a short story about strangling someone between the salad and the main course.

A friend once pointed out to me (which was pointed out to her by her son the doctor), there is no such thing as the life of the mind. We are all just cells--physical, percolating cells making it all up as we go along. (Well, he was more elegant than that but you get the idea.) And I like making it up on paper.


  1. Lovely thought, Susan, and so true. I like the scarf scene!


  2. Thanks, Edith. Sometimes it's better not to tell non-writers where we get our ideas.

  3. Thank you, Susan! I enjoyed reading—and relating to—the clay sculpture metaphor and the delight of he working out events in time and the details that make the story tangible. I picture a story as if it were a movie running in my head, so real at times that it's almost scary.

    I sometimes wonder if there's any intrinsic value in my work. Hey, the white hats prevail, but ... Ever think that way?

    Again, thanks for the blog! Kat

  4. I like the comparison to a movie running in your head--I can see my characters living out their lives as I write. The question about intrinsic value in our work? That's something more to think about--and write about.