To Tell the Truth

imagesI read fiction, and I would guess that most  of you mysteristas both read and write fiction. I just do not read much “true crime. I want my “fiction” to belief-like, with characters so “real” that I might see them in the grocery store. I certainly want dialogue that is realistic for any person in a similar situation.

However, as far as reading what really happens in “real life,” that pretty much stops for me with the daily newspaper. Of course, even with the newspaper, I hypothesize about the incidents, and I sometimes wonder if that “accident” really was an accident or something more sinister.

news1 - CopyThere seems to be an abundance of true crime in TV-land, and not just on the nightly news. Streaming services, national networks, and local independent stations have series after series “exposing the truth behind” some unsolved crime or criminal prosecution, and pleading with viewers to be on the lookout for a suspect on the loose wanted for a horrible act. Even while surrounded by “true crime” I somehow have not read much in the true crime category.

I was reminded of why I had not read much “true crime” when I went on vacation last summer. I was looking for something to read on the plane, and I saw a “true crime” book set in my vacation destination. It promised a wrongly convicted defendant, an in-depth search for the killer, celebrity connections, political corruption, and a giant cover-up. “Wow! How interesting,” I thought. Well, not so much.

The author documented the search for all those things all right, but the book was about the tedious (and mind-numbing) search through records, folders, files, and papers. The characters, the innocent and the guilty, were one-dimensional and really an afterthought. There could certainly be no accusations of making things up just to make the book interesting!

I can understand how difficult it must be to write “true crime” because an author cannot make anything up to create suspense or intrigue. Besides, if the “crime” is high profile enough to merit a book, the readers already know who did it, so there goers the suspense angle.

I recently heard an author of “true crime” speak about her books. Reading one of her “true crime” books gave me a new totally perspective. The book was compelling and thrilling. The dialogue certainly was realistic, and the characters were diverse and interesting. It was wonderful to read. Now I have a bunch of her other books on my list to read. Perhaps the writers of “true crime” that I previously read were just not good writers – of anything.

Now, I have a question for you. As authors of crime fiction, do you ever write “true crime?” Why or why not? If you do, how is the writing process different? What are the guesschallenges?  (Besides not being able to make stuff up.) How do you move the story along when readers know the ending? How do you keep it from becoming just another “National Enquirer” type story? Enquiring minds want to know!

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Author: 3 no 7

"3 no 7" presents Katie and Barbara who write about the books they love and the books they don't.

13 thoughts on “To Tell the Truth”

  1. I’ve never tried to write “true crime.” So much of what really happens is, as you say, mind-numbing and it takes a gifted writer to make that interesting and compelling. In fiction, I can compress or skim the boring parts.

    Also, fiction is much more sensible than a lot of true crime! My father is a big fan and he’s always texting me, “Would this really happen?” In real life? Yes. In fiction? Not so much. Mark Twain was right in that regard.

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  2. I haven’t written true crime because to do it correctly you need access to things the police didn’t release in the event there wasn’t a trial. And to do it right would take a year of research and then a year of writing. Although I’ve thought about it because we have had some noteworthy crimes up here. However, I do have a blog post coming up later this month recommending three true crimes, one a book, one a podcast and one a miniseries. Stay tuned!

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  3. I’ve never written true crime, but I have read it in both the forms you talk about: dry and tedious, alive and interesting. I think it’s a real gift to be able to write a well paced, fascinating book about actual events and not go outside the bounds of what actually happened.

    I have thought of trying to write a true crime someday if I can find a case to write about.

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    1. I agree that an appropriate topic is hard to find. Newspapers and TV are so full of “crime” programs that just present the superficial or sensational so writing a “true crime” should focus on the personalities.

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  4. I’ve never been tempted by true crime, except as a reader, and then I want stories that give me a psychological insight, rather than a sensational crime. As for writing, I sometimes start fiction with the germ of an idea that comes from a true crime, but I prefer to let my imagination take it away.

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  5. I haven’t written true crime, but I have been asked to create a story based on a true account. And tomorrow I leave to participate in interviews for the subject of a biography, completely non-fiction. In my mind, my task will be to dig a little deeper than the facts and find the heart of the characters. To be able to develop factual scenes in ways that both expose the truth and create questions readers for which readers want to learn the answers. I’ll know more (hopefully) as this project progresses.

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  6. I honestly have no real interest in true crime, whether reading or writing it. I don’t like glorifying the killer or exacerbating the pain of those who knew the victim(s).

    I have no problem with basing a story off a real thing that happened and changing the details to make it fictional, though. Pretty sure most writers do that.

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  7. I love to read true crime and watch those Netflix series. Right now I’m obsessed with The Staircase. But I have no desire to write it. Seems hard. But my “ideas” file is stuffed with news clippings and magazine articles that pique my curiosity. Either questions I still have that didn’t get answered or “Ooooh, what if …?” kinda things. So, definitely true crime is a springboard for my other writing.

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