Traditional Publishing

Five Steps to Writing a Crime Novel Inspired by Your Family (Without Making Everyone Hate You) – Saturday September 3, 2022

“Write what you know.” It’s the second-oldest piece of writing advice there is, right behind “show, don’t tell.” There’s a long rich history of authors weaving details of their personal lives into stories, to varying degrees and with varying regard for subtlety. There are full-on roman à clefs. Protagonists who just happen to be depressed, struggling authors. Stephen King books set in Maine. 

It’s an old piece of advice because it works. The more you pull from real firsthand experiences, the more your writing feels… real. Revelatory stuff, I know. But pulling from life can get complicated in a darker genre like crime. At least horror authors like King can mask their real-life inspirations with the supernatural and over-the-top: ex-lovers transform into vampires; a cocaine addiction becomes a rabid dog (in Maine) or a deranged fan (of an author); grief is an Indian burial ground. Crime offers no such crutch. The genre is too grounded in real life for us to mask much, if anything. The way I see it, crime fiction equals horror plus realism. Every character is human and usually irredeemably flawed, even the good guys.

What I’m getting at is that writing a crime novel is a uniquely great way to piss off the real people you end up writing about. Especially if they’re family. And what else is a young, inexperienced author supposed to write credibly about?

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