Crime Novel WIP Help Needed

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As many of you know, I have had two works in progress, an autobiography of sorts and a crime novel/murder mystery.  I have decided to focus my energies on the later.  My husband reads two to three books a week in this genre, but we have a minor disagreement on how to proceed with the crime drama/murder mystery.  I need your thoughts on this dilemma.  He tells me, of course, the ultimate decision is mine on how to proceed, but I need your feedback, so I will pose the question here.

If and when you read crime fiction/murder mystery, or watch a show on TV like NCIS or Criminal Minds, do you like to know who the bad guy is before the protagonist does, or do you like to wait until they solve the crime and be surprised?

I like helping the good guys figure it out and exploring options in my head.  I don’t like it when authors or movie directors show glimpses of the bad guy in advance.  It spoils the intrigue for me.  It takes away the fun and makes watching the good guys come to the right conclusions less suspenseful.  It removes the element of challenge, which is part of what I like most about such shows and reading.

My husband, who really enjoys both, likes to have some background into the bad guy’s life. He wants to see him set up the crime and see how the good guys work to find out what he already knows.  My husband feels that it does not spoil the read to have the backstory on the bad guy/criminal, but offers insight into his behavior which can lead the protagonist down the right road to making clever decisions.  He says that a lot of his favorite books center around the bad guy’s history.

I am at a point in this writing where I have to make this decision soon.  So, what do you think?  Want to see the bad guy set up the crime, or want to wait and be surprised?

36 thoughts on “Crime Novel WIP Help Needed

  1. This is my preferred genre too. And it just depends. I always like a twist at the end and don’t want it to be too predictable. But it is done best when you learn about several people and think how each of them did it before you really find out whodunit.

    I can’t wait to read it.

  2. I like for it to be a surprise even though I don’t watch much of those shows. I stopped when I was figuring out the criminal before they protagonists did. It wasn’t as much fun with all the red herrings and blatantly false leads. Please don’t do the ‘criminal was someone you would never expect’ thing where all of the evidence is found during a commercial break.

    • lol, I have the criminal already, and it is someone you would not expect, that’s why i don’t want too much backstory. I love criminal minds, but the shows that show you the criminal setting up the crime or chopping up the bodies before the team has figured out who the murderer is ruin it for me.

  3. What Pamela said…you can learn back stories on several characters, have your red herring, if you chose, but don’t tell me until the protag finds out. That said, many of the top m/m writers, run bad guy and other storyline parallel until the two meet close to the end. Do you know what I mean? Good luck!

    • Thanks. that is what i am leaning too, because any one of four characters so far could have committed the crime. But only one you would consider had enough motive, and he is not it.

  4. It depends on the sub-genre of mystery. A classic “Whodunit” is like a logic puzzle, and the reader should only have access to the clues that the detective would have. (I don’t care for those kinds of mysteries, myself, but there is a huge market for them.) In a “Crime Thriller” the focus is more on making an exciting story, so letting the reader know things that the detective doesn’t know can increase the tension–for example, when you show the bad guy setting up a trap that the hero doesn’t see coming. A “Psychological Thriller” often will alternate between criminal and detective viewpoints, giving the reader both sides of the story and building tension on both sides. A “Police Procedural” tends to focus on how the detective works, and tends to first show what the bad guy does, and then show how the detective reconstructs the crime.

    My personal preference is for books that focus on the psychology of the characters, for example Thomas Harris’s “Red Dragon”, but what I think is important is for the author to be consistent–if you start with one model you should stick with it all the way through. So if you’re going to show the bad guy’s viewpoint you should do it early, in the first few chapters. Following.the detective for most of the book and then shifting to the criminal’s viewpoint close to the end would be confusing, I think.

    • Wow! thanks so much. this is really helpful. I am really intrigued by the psychological thriller. I actually liked Silence of the Lambs, but not the sequel so much. i like to get inside the head of the bad guy. I am only 30,000 words into this thing and it would be easy to do multiple points of view in different chapters. My husband likes that also. I have a lot to think about. Again thanks for the comments. Consistency is paramount. I will have to read the Red Dragon.

    • Thanks John. i do also, but I also like the psychological angles that can be explored knowing more about the killer. i do think Charles elementary approach might work though, where you don’t know the killer, but sort of see the crime take place in an obscure manner.

  5. I love it when the bad guy isn’t all bad and the good guy has lots of less than admirable bits. But the decision on whether to reveal depends more on whether it’s the villian’s backstory that is the motivation, or their role as the clever opponent. Think James Bond’s evil-from-the-getgo villains vs Sherlock Holmes’ villains who serve more as a foil (esp Moriarty, whose motivation remains in general doubt even after you learn his identity)

  6. I like to know ahead of time and then see how the others get to know themselves. The ones where it isn’t revealed until the end always seem a bit to cute for me.

  7. I like the writer to jerk me around and guess the perp’s ID. For example, when I watch Cadfael or an episode of Miss Marple, I want to be in the dark, at least for a while, and then — the big reveal!

    • Thanks. I lean that way also. I can see the advantages of s slight show of the hand at the crime scene though…as it happens. For the psychological thrill, maybe not all revealing, but enough for intrigue.

  8. I love not knowing. Agatha Christie is one of my favourite authors and i love the different twists and turns she takes you on, making you change your mind on who the bad guy is. I find if i know who it is i can easily put the book down whether if i don’t then life gets put on hold because i want to know whodunit, damn-it!

    • I agree, one of my favs also. And I like the twists and turns that make you think you have it figured and then you don’t. Thanks for the comment. I am getting a lot of good ideas here,

  9. Either can work. Not knowing can be a fun puzzle to work on. When you know who it is, the puzzle is more, how will he catch him? Sometimes it’s nice to sit back and enjoy the story without a nagging puzzle. It depends.

    • I am toying with a couple of ideas here. Multiple points of view of a couple suspects as well as the protagonist, and having the real killer be seen (or at least the crime in action) obscurely, not directly.

  10. I love Misha Burnett’s comment! Now I can say that I’m writing a psychological thriller 😉 I’ve enjoyed knowing who the criminal is from the get-go to being surprised at the very end. For me, it just depends on how well the author carries the story. If the criminal is made known to me upfront, then there needs to be a reason for that (like seeing the crime through the criminal’s eyes, backstory, tension). If the purpose is to surprise me, that’s fine as long as the surprise is believable. If the criminal’s ID is kept from me, I still want to try and figure out who it is. When he or she is revealed, I want to be able to smack my forehead and say, “I should have known!”
    I recommend that you write the story you want to write, the way you want to write it. It’s wonderful that your husband is helping you (and it probably would be cool to have him as a co-author), but you need to be comfortable with what you write. If he feels very strongly about revealing the criminal upfront, then perhaps he could write his own novel 🙂 And you could be co-author. And that would probably be very cool.

    • I like seeing the crime through the criminal’s eyes….and having the other suspects with their point of view…they were close to the criminal and the victim. So the crime will be shown in obscurity and we will all be happy. The crime solving team is a husband and wife team. So it is okay we have differences of opinion about things 🙂

  11. I like both types of books. Misha Burnett explained it very well. For example, I just read one of Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole mysteries. The reader knew the murderer that Harry Hole was trying to catch from the beginning, and we knew what the killer was thinking, but his back story was revealed gradually throughout the book. At the same time, there was also another murderer/bad guy who was a surprise.
    An Agatha Christie type mystery is, as someone above said, more of a logic puzzle. It’s more about solving the crime–and if you figure it out ahead of time–before the detective–it really does spoil the story.
    I agree that you should write the type of book you want to write! I’m sure it will be amazing! 🙂

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