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Writing crime is definitely a different kind of beast, as I found out when writing “Desecration” last year.
Murder mystery takes intricate plotting, you need to set up multiple characters who might be responsible, and you need to have an original spin to stand out in this popular genre. In today's post, crime writer Luke Preston shares some of his tips.
If you want to write a crime novel, you’d better be ready to pick a fight. People are going to hate you and there’s nothing you can do about that.
They’re going to hate you for killing off their favorite characters, they’re going to lecture you for your use of bad language and they are going to resent you for taking them to places that challenge their values and beliefs. If you don’t like picking a fight, go write something else. But, if you like getting your knuckles bloody, you’ve come to the right place.
Writing is hard and finding your way through the words takes an immense amount of time. Here are 7 tips that I wish somebody had told me years before I put pen to paper.
(1) Don't be boring
The worst crime a writer can commit is to be boring. I’d rather do serious time for murder than to be accused of being boring. If a crime novel turns out to be boring there’s a very high chance it is because the writer was bored while penning the decaf infused words. The worst piece of advice I have ever heard, and it’s slapped around like a 12 step mantra is, ‘Write what you know.’ It’s bullshit, never write what you know, write what excites you. You do that and that excitement will come across on the page and excite the reader.
(2) Grab the reader by the throat on the first page and don't let go
In any story, the opening sentence, paragraph, page or chapter can be vital and crime writing is no exception. Start your story off like a shotgun blast in the middle of the night.
Here are a couple of opening types that have worked for me in the past.
The Action Opening: Start the novel with the hero in some sort of physical or emotional jeopardy
The Flashback Opening: Start with a moment of high drama from somewhere later in the novel and then flashback to the events leading up to it.
The First Day on the Job Opening: A good way to introduce the world to the reader is to discover it through the eyes of the hero. They may, as the title suggests, be starting a new job, or they may have just arrived in town.
The Everyday Hero Opening: Your protagonist is going about their everyday life and some event sends them spiraling off into another direction.
Outside Action: The outside action event could be a robbery, or a murder, or any problem that doesn’t involve the hero.
Never start with a description of the weather. In a crime novel, if you open with the description of the weather I’m going to think that the weather killed somebody.
(3) Have a crime
If you are writing a crime novel bad and awful things, sourced from the madness of your soul, need to happen. A crime novel without a crime isn’t a crime novel and a straight up murder isn’t going to cut it anymore. Give your criminals unique and conflicting reasons to be criminals. The bad guy in a story never knows he’s the bad guy. In his story, he’s the good guy. Your protagonist is only as strong as the forces of antagonism they are up against. Give them something to go up against.
*Note: A killer never kills because they are mad, there is always a reason.
(4) Don't write likeable characters
Nobody likes likable characters. They may think they do and they may believe they do, but they really don’t. What they like are interesting characters. Characters that make mistakes, characters that think fast and think badly, flawed characters, but likeable characters. Likeable is boring. Crime novels are littered with sons of bitches, wild men, dubious women and double crossing bastards. Given the questionable nature of the characters that populate the pages of a crime novel, the question is how do you capture the hearts of the readers and keep them turning the page?
The answer is empathy.
Empathy is different from likable. Even the most renegade of criminal will detest a serial killer. But we are more than happy to read pages and pages of a serial killer roaming the streets of Florida murdering away for pleasure and work as Dexter does in Jeff Lindsey’s series. Readers don’t turn those pages because they like Dexter or believe in his cause. They do because they empathize with Dexter – he’s a guy who just wants to fit in.
Here are a couple of ways to create empathy.
- Make the hero funny
- Make the hero a victim
- Show the hero in a dilemma
- Show the hero being highly skilled
- Show the hero being selfless
(5) Endings that slap you in the face
A killer ending us just as important as a killer opening. The reader has been good enough to purchase your novel and read it all the way to the final pages so give them an ending that will knock them on their ass (and send them straight out to buy your next novel).
Great endings give the reader what they want but not in the way they expect it. It reads easy but it’s not. Think of the ending as a mini three-act structure with twists and turns, reversals, setbacks and new plans. And when you’re story is over, end it! That guy in the first act who had the really cool car and said those three cool lines of dialogue; to the hell with him — we don’t care where he ended up. As ‘B’ movie king, Roger Corman once said, when the monster is dead, the movie is over.
(6) Get into a fight
Get out of the office, hit the street and start a fight. I don’t care with who. I don’t care what about. You can’t expect to be a writer without getting out into the world and getting your heart and knuckles scraped. Don’t hide in the world, be a part of it, experience its disappointments and triumphs, anger and heartbreaks and put it all on the page.
(7) What the hell is your story about?
Well, what the hell is your story about?
This is the question you need to ask yourself every single day that you follow one word with another on the way to the final last few. I’m not talking about the high concept idea you pitch at parties where you say your novel is about a guy, from wherever, who does this, and that happens. I’m talking about what your story is about on a thematic level. What does it mean to you? What are you saying about the world with your story? What the hell is it really about?
It’s that hidden drive, buried deep in your sub-conscious that pushes you to get up early and stay up late pounding out the words at the typer. Some of us write out of anger, and some of us write out of sadness. The only way to define what it is you are really writing is to sit in that familiar position of pen in hand and write down a list:
Ten things that make you angry
Ten things that make you sad
Think about what relates to you most and give that trait to your protagonist. Bruce Wayne isn’t angry that his parents were murdered (although I’m sure that pissed him off) what really drives Bruce Wayne is that he is angry that people are not held responsible for their actions. Therefore, he becomes a vigilante. That is what is really at the heart of Batman. And whether you know it or not, there is something at the heart of your story and if you can define it, you can develop and explore it with a master’s control.
What I’ve been writing about here are only a few things that have helped me over my years in the war of the words, take what you can from it, and discard what you will. The words come differently to everyone. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow and sometimes not at all. In those times of darkness and empty pages remember that, if you wait, if you are patient, the words will always come.
Do you write crime? Or love reading crime? Please share your comments and tips below.
Luke Preston spent most of his twenties as a freelance writer, a private investigator and listening to rock ‘n roll. He is the author of the Tom Bishop Rampages, Dark City Blue and its sequel, Out of Exile, which can be found here.
Luke’s writing is as much influenced by AC/DC and Johnny Cash as it is by Richard Stark and Raymond Chandler. He holds a Master's degree in Screenwriting from the Victorian College of the Arts and has absolutely no intention of moving to a shack in the middle of nowhere. He likes bad traffic, noisy neighbors, cheap beer, loud bars and has been occasionally known to howl at the moon. Luke’s work has been recognized by The Inside Film Awards, MTV and The ATOM Awards.
Filed Under: WritingTagged With: crime writing, thriller, Writing, writing tips
Coming up with a good book title or book title ideas can be maddening.
They’re super critical to your book’s marketability and yet sometimes the right words just don’t pop out of thin air.
Don’t worry, most authors suffer from trying to come up with good names for books and usually go straight for their next cup of joe, glass of wine, or bottle of vodka in order to search for a little extra creativity.
In the past, I have spent hours toiling away with my notepad coming up with a list of potential book titles, only to feel as though they were all missing the mark. The perfect title that holds strong creativity and marketability can be as elusive as an honest politician.
But thankfully, we no longer have to go it alone because there are some incredible tools, like novel title generators, that I have found to help me with just that and I’ve listed all the best by their genre specialty below.
In this article, you’ll learn about:
- What a book title generator is and isn’t
- The best free book title generators
- Other tools to help validate your ideas
Bonus: Download my personal guide on creating book titles that increase sales, and discoverability on Amazon.
List of Book Name Generators
The funny thing about random book name generators is that many of them are niche specific – which is a good thing. Let’s face it, the typical sentence structure and word lexicon for erotica book titles are completely different than sci-fi…or let’s hope.
Therefore, using one type of random title generator for all kinds of books is a bad idea. So, to help you get the most out of a story name generator, I’m going to present a list of devices/services that have a specific setting for a particular niche/genre.
You might notice that a couple are mentioned multiple times. That’s because some of these title tools allow you to just click on a different genre.
Fantasy Name Generators
Sci-Fi Title Generators
Horror Name Generators
Romance Title Generators
Mystery Novel Title Generators
Non-Fiction Title Generators
But nothing beats a Title that shows exactly what people are typing into Amazon. The best Non-fiction title is the one that uses the words of the customer. In order to figure out WHAT people are typing into amazing, make sure to learn about Kindle keywords, or use a special tool that will pull this information for you.
Children’s Book Title Generators
If those don’t work, here’s a great article on how to title your children’s book.
Comic Book Name Generators
Other Types of Book Title Generators
As you can see there are all sizes and shapes when it comes to title name generators. Just remember, these are best used to help with book title ideas and can help shape how you create your ultimate book title.
Found One? Now What?
So, you just checked out some tools that will get your creative juices flowing, but wouldn’t it be nice if there was something to help you figure out if the book title was marketable and would stand the chance of selling well?
Well, the super cool peeps at Lulu did just that.
They created a free tool that will grade your title based on its likelihood to succeed. To create it, Lulu and their team of statisticians studied a list of the best-selling titles from 1955 to 2004 and ultimately bottled up that success into a super cool tool, the Lulu TitleScorer.
All you need to do is type in your title, help give it a running grammar start, and click “Analyze My Title.” Then the tool will go through its records and give you a score ranging from 0-100 on the likelihood of success.
Now, if only I could remember the difference between an abstract, concrete and proper noun…thank goodness for Google.
Got Some Good Book Names? How About Testing It!
Now that you’ve used some creative book titles tools and even checked it against a title analyzer, how about testing it with your market? Some people will go to Facebook groups and ask, but most of the time this comes from random people that aren’t even your target market.
Instead, I personally like using PickFu. This survey service, will take your potential book titles, find the target market for you and have them vote on which one they like. Not only will you get to see which one is the best of them all, you’ll get some key insight into why your target market loves one over the other.
Basically, PickFu takes the guess work out of it and gives your data.
You can even see how I used Pickfu to test a book description for the famous book Battlefield Earth. Unsurprisingly, my book description helped Galaxy Press double their conversion rates and make more sales. So, test, test, test…or else you could be losing out on book sales!
If You’d Like to Learn More about Book Title Generators
To help you with learning about book title generators, here are a couple more resources and links:
7 Tools for Creating Superb Bestselling Book Titles – This article will help you test even more than just Lulu’s listed above. It can help you dive deeper into book title testing. This way you’ll know your book generator is the right one.
Feeding Your Writer’s Creativity – If you need more help in the creativity department, then check this out and learn how to give your writer brain a boost when coming up with your title through the above generators.
Collection of Great Book Title Ideas on Pinterest – Here’s a Pinterest page that collects some of the best book titles and lets you see what other creative authors have come up with over the years.
So What Are You Waiting For?
As you can see, there are a bunch of tools to help authors jump-start their creative juices and even a tool to help ensure it’s marketable.
Although they aren’t perfect, they are free and better than nothing – especially when serendipity is not on your side.
So, give these book title generators a go, and don’t forget to download my free guide below on how to create a book title that sells.