AUTHENTICITY IN CRIME FICTION: "A PLOT DOESN’T NEED TO BE POSSIBLE; IT NEEDS TO BE PLAUSIBLE." MELINDA COLT
Most of us read fiction books to escape into new and exciting worlds from the comfort of our own homes. We love following great detectives or private eyes as they connect clues, and we love to hate most of the villains that skilled writers portray in their books. Being part of the chase and trying to figure out the whodunnit is a delight to the mystery reader, just as the thriller reader loves to be completely enthralled in the heads of the characters and living vicariously in their fictional worlds.
But even when it comes to fiction, authors need to keep a degree of accuracy, especially if we’re talking about crime fiction. My mantra as a fiction writer: “A plot doesn’t need to be possible; it needs to be plausible.” It works, up to a point, and as a young reader, I enjoyed many books that were extremely entertaining and well written. However, now I find flaws in many of them. Why? Because back then, I used to read any genre. Now, as a crime fiction reader and writer, I analyze every detail in a story.
As for my books, I work diligently to offer my readers the best possible experience in my detective mysteries, The Irish Garda Squad. I can honestly say that researching these books has taken longer than writing them, and before I started writing Dare Game, the book that starts the series, the first thing I did was contact An Garda Síochána – Ireland’s police force – and ask them to assist me with my research. The sergeant I spoke with was quite helpful, and even though it was impossible to answer all of my questions and scenarios (I hadn’t even plotted book one yet), I got the basic information that I requested.
Another stroke of luck was meeting detective Simon McLean — retired cop, author, and active member of LEAP Scotland, who was extremely patient while answering all my questions. Being a civilian with no crime-fighting background whatsoever, I can assure you some of my questions were pretty dumb.
My publisher, my editor, and my husband, aka Mr. Walking Encyclopedia, were incredibly helpful, as were the Cops and Writers Facebook group led by Patrick O’Donnell. All of these constitute a treasure of knowledge, and judging by the reviews, led to an authentic experience for my readers.
As I prepare to release the next book in the series, Silent Strike, I am confident that I’ve done my homework, and I’ll deliver a story my readers will love!
If you haven’t started the series, find the first book, Dare Game, at your favorite retailer!
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It’s a crazy statement, I know. But all authors have an element of crazy in them somewhere — at least I don’t think I’m the only one. How can we not? We have to balance our lives, family, and day-to-day responsibilities with the art of storytelling. We create lives, personalities, likes, and dislikes. It’s like giving birth without the added weight gain and late-night bottle feedings.
Or is it?
If we’re not careful, we drink too much coffee, eat too many snacks — instead of real food — and position ourselves in front of our computer screens for hours on end. Thus, weight gain. Late-night bottle feedings come in the form of waking up in the wee hours of the night, jotting down notes or a scene that’s been plaguing us all day.
How do we stay sane? Where do these fictional people come from? Why are we not wearing straitjackets?
My best guess is because we’ve learned to blend in with the rest of society. Thankfully, readers are intrigued by our stories, which helps me to keep the purple straitjacket tucked away.
All jokes aside, it is my opinion that writing is the truest form of self-expression, healing, and finding a way to cope with whatever ails you. Whether you journal, blog, write a memoir, or take your life experiences or pull from those around you and write a book. No matter what avenue you take, writing is therapeutic.
I love to create the characters in my stories. As an only child, I spent a lot of time alone, playing with my baby dolls, stuffed animals, and Barbies. Each had a name and a voice of their own. I spent hour after hour making up stories and creating adventures to entertain myself. Each story had a Happily Ever After. From time to time, I would get the tape recorder (remember that old-fashioned form of electronics?) and make cassette tapes of my little adventures to share with my parents. They, of course, thought my tales were funny. Little did I know that form of storytelling would eventually lead to a writing career.
I still use a recorder — digital now — to record my ideas for my books. No dolls allowed; I leave that to my daughter. The tales are no longer about a princess riding horses and marrying a prince. Now the stories deal with real-life experiences. Not all are my own, but they are real, they do happen, and there is heartbreak and pain. But through it all, there is happiness and love.
After creating the heroines in my books, I realized something. In each character — as different as they are — there is an element of me. The woman I once was, the woman I am, the woman I secretly wish I could be, and the woman I aspire to become. Multiple Personality Disorder at its best. By telling their stories, I’ve found a way to work through the pain I've experienced to find happiness in my family and the ones I hold dear.
Along the way, I’ve made friends I never would have known and gained knowledge I never would have attained. In short, I’ve not only learned how to become a better writer, but I’ve also learned more about myself. Writing has allowed me to make a mark of my own outside of being a wife and a mother. I have discovered something I love, something I’m good at, and something that unless I actually lose my mind, no one can ever take away from me.
There’s not a morning I don’t get up with an idea that I’m anxious to put on paper. Seeing the Butterfly Memoirs go through several different stages of evolution over several years taught me so much. Adding to the story, taking away, fine tuning, and finessing … it’s all the part of telling a story — with heart, care, and attention to detail.
If you’re thinking about writing a book, watch out for those doctors with those special white coats!
By the way, my straight jacket also has butterflies! LOL!
Great news! If you’d like to learn more about my characters, my first book, a romantic women’s fiction with heart and soul, is absolutely FREE for a limited time!
Hope you enjoyed this insight into my writing world!
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Carmen DeSousa: I had to stop writing when I broke down over a character dying, and I’m the psycho who killed him.
When I sit down to write a novel, I generally have no idea where I’m going. My typical start of a story is usually the main character—whether it’s the male protagonist or the female protagonist—and whatever issue they are facing.
From there, I just ask myself questions:
The great thing is, just like the reader, I never know exactly what my characters will do. Sure, I know I want a happily ever after, but I also know that not every character will get a happily ever after. And the detours they make along the way sometimes even surprise me. Why? Because I allow my story to progress naturally.
I typically write two thousand words a day, and then every night I read the last few chapters to make sure the story flows, marking any areas that need addressing, and then go to sleep, allowing the characters to come alive in my dreams. And ohhh how they do. It’s not unusual for hubby to see me typing on my iPhone’s notepad in the middle of the night. Often it’ll just be a great line or a missing link I was in search of.
When I finally finish the novel, I take an entire day and read from beginning to end, making sure the story flows and that there are no holes or contradictions.
I’ve read this story almost thirty times at this juncture. How can it surprise me, how can it make me cry? And yet, here I am, sitting on the sofa, my afghan curled around me, and I’m bawling over something that happened.
Hubby, who has been sitting quietly by his computer—because he knows it’s read-through day—whips his chair around to face me and asks, “Are you okay?”
I swipe away my tears and answer, “Yes, I just can’t believe that happened.”
“Wait. I thought you were reading your book?” he asks.
“I am,” I answer. “But it still makes me cry.”
He shakes his head and goes back to typing his nonfiction.
One of my favorite quotes is by Robert Frost: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
Well, I’m always surprised, and I always cry when something happens to my characters, so I hope when you read my books you will, too!
If you enjoy stories that blend happy and sad, romantic and suspenseful, click the link for your favorite retailer below and grab one of my free books. If you’ve read all my books, make sure you pre-order my new release, Erik’s Revelation, at the $0.99 introductory price, so you’ll know why I was crying!
Until next time, happy reading!
Learn more about Carmen: www.WrittenMusings.com/CarmenDeSousa
Or visit one of her author pages to grab one of her bestsellers!
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Carmen DeSousa writes about what she knows... Sometimes it's happy, sometimes it's sad, but it always ends in Happily Ever After!
A professor once told me that all first-time authors write their autobiography, even if tagged fiction. While I don’t believe that’s completely true, after all, some first-time authors write about vampires and shape shifters, I do think there’s a modicum of truth to that statement. In other words, even if an author writes a work of fiction, there are usually many elements of the story that are factual, and I’d venture to guess that, at minimum, authors probably pattern characters after people whom they know.
When my college professor suggested: “Write what you know.” — a quote often attributed to Mark Twain, but some say it is much older — I wasn’t certain if I really wanted to do that. After all, who would believe me?
Here are a few scary subjects I know about:
Child abuse, Sexual abuse, Drug abuse, Alcohol abuse, Abandonment, Rape, Suicide, Depression, Stalkers, Crime, Tragedies, Death...
But, thankfully, I also know about a lot of good subjects, too:
A new family, Hiking, Kayaking, Love at first sight, Happily ever after, Police & Detective Procedures, Belief in God, The power to overcome adversity…,
Hey, I moved out on my own at the age of seventeen, and I'm married to a retired police detective, so I've seen a lot. The problem is ... will anyone believe or want to read about "what you know?" Well, I guess that depends. If you put it into a story, add a little, as Hollywood refers to it: Based on a true story, but dramatic elements have been added for the sake of artistic expression, then, yeah, some people will believe and/or want to read because more than likely they can identify with a character and/or a situation. And while they can enjoy an escape into a fictional story, they may take something from it.
The funny thing is most of the stories throughout history are based on a couple of those "unbelievable" elements I listed above. Although they may not all be in the same story, "love at first sight," "family tragedy," and/or "an unbelievable or vicious crime" are often the basis of a work of literary fiction. Fairy tales did it. Suspense-thrillers do it. It’s a great start!
So if you don’t believe one or more of the elements of a story, does that make it "unbelievable" or a "bad" story? One of the most popular themes is "love at first sight," which often gets a bad rap by reviewers. You may not believe in "love at first sight," but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist, and many readers love it. In fact, even movies that aren’t tagged as "love at first site," usually have a hero and heroine thrust into an incredibly unbelievable situation, and are all of a sudden willing to die for each other. Of course, there are many classics like that, too: Romeo and Juliet, all the fairy tales, even The Godfather ... ooh, I bet you forgot about that one. Remember when Michael Corleone is walking through the picturesque countryside in Sicily and he spots the beautiful Apollonia… See, even graphic thrillers do it!
Well, as I mentioned in the above list, these are all the things I write about. Why? Because it’s what I know. So, let me share a tidbit of information with the unbelievers of the world who don't think "love at first sight" exists...
I’ve experienced a lot of tragedy in my life, but I got lucky in love! After my first date with my husband, I called my grandmother and told her I'd just met the man I was going to marry. Thirteen days later, he asked me to marry him. Thirty days later, we got married, and we’ve been married for thirty-one years.
Yes, I believe in "love at first sight," yes, I write tales filled with tragedy, mystery, suspense, hope and, above all, romance, because I’m living one. I’ll leave the rest of "what I know" situations that I write about in my books up to your imagination, and let you try to figure out what's real or made up. :)
Until next time, happy reading and imagining!
If you would like to read a little more about what Carmen writes, follow the links below to download one of her bestsellers.