Turning a Crime into a Story

A few years ago, I attended a crime writers conference where one of the speakers told us true crime stories were less interesting than crime fiction.

Although true crime stories hold a certain fascination for some – there will always be people who want to know all the gory details about who was having sex with whom and how that led to murder or whatever – the point the speaker was making was that, in the main, most real crime is committed for very banal reasons by fairly stupid people. A straight retelling of such stories generally does not make for a good reading experience.

So, what’s a crime writer to do with all that true crime material the world delivers each day? 

You select a crime and turn it into a story using your imagination. You rewrite the boring bits into a story with a few unexpected twists. You transform the fairly stupid people into interesting characters and give them some less banal motivations for their criminal activities. And, you add in the dimension of seeing it through the eyes of the investigators, which allows the story to unfold and draw you into sorting out the mystery of how the crime came into being.

Let’s consider an example from the Stella Bruno Investigates series: A Gun of Many Parts. This story is based on the facts of a true crime committed in Australia.

The basic facts of the crime are:

A man fired a pistol in a suburban street after an argument with a woman and drove off in his car.

The incident was reported to police, along with the registration number of the car of the shooter.

The police pulled over the car and discovered the driver in possession of a Glock pistol, a prohibited import in Australia.

The shooter wouldn’t divulge details of how he’d come into possession of the pistol.

At this point, we’re dealing with a crime committed for a banal reason – an argument – and a stupid act by someone smart enough to keep his mouth shut. But the story took a twist when the police examined the pistol – the three main components of the Glock had different serial numbers.

To most of us, that little fact doesn’t mean much, but to a police ballistics expert it was a red flag, because when a Glock leaves the factory in Austria, those component have the same serial number.

This led to the uncovering of another crime, one committed by three men with a brilliant idea that unravelled thanks to the stupid act of one of their customers, their own lack of foresight, and meticulous record keeping by Glock.

So, what did I do with those facts? First, I shifted the scene of the crime into South Australia, where Stella Bruno does her thing. Then, I invented the characters I needed and wove their story around the bare bones of the real crime.

You can see how it turned out in A Gun of Many Parts.

A World of Ideas to Keep a Crime Writer Busy

Crime writers will not have to worry about a lack of source material for their story ideas any time soon.

Now that the pandemic and the protests are slipping down in the news headlines, we’re seeing the normal run of everyday crimes getting some media attention again.

Despite the lockdown, we still seem to be murdering each other and stealing other people’s stuff, while our political and corporate leaders continue playing their corrupt power games. 

While most of us have been happily surfing the web to distract ourselves from or to follow the pandemic and protests, several state actors have been actively engaged in cybercrime, espionage, and the dissemination of false information across social media. And, that’s without mentioning the antics of that man in the White House.

There are story ideas everywhere you look. 

Guess I’ll be writing a few more books like the Stella Bruno Investigates story I’m currently working on.

Looking behind the curtain

It's time to take a look behind the curtain.

image by maxime amoudruz | unsplash

If you’ve seen the Wizard of Oz you’ll know about the man behind the curtain.

It’s a great visual reminder that things are not always what they seem on the surface.

Looking behind the curtain is an essential skill for anyone investigating a crime, and creating curtains is a fun game for crime writers.

It’s also an essential life skill if you don’t want to be taken in by appearances.

How often have you judged a book by its cover and been disappointed? And, how often have you judged a book by its cover and missed out on a great read because you failed to look behind the curtain?

You need to look behind the curtain in all aspects of your life, not just when choosing a book to read. Think about all that advertising you’re bombarded with and all that political spin. Think about what you’re being fed as news.

If you never question or examine what you’re told you’ll end up like the citizens of Oz: believing in a fraud.


Peter Mulraney is a crime writing mystic from Australia. 

Crime novels

Crime novels are written for entertainment.

The stories are more about people than crime. They are a way of exploring human behaviour.

Crime stories allow us to look at why people commit acts, like murder, and at the impact of those acts on others, especially the people tasked with bringing the perpetrators to justice. Continue reading “Crime novels”

There’s more

If you enjoyed Deadly Sands, there’s more to the Inspector West story.

If you’d prefer to read Deadly Sands on your e-reader, tablet of smartphone, join my Crime Readers Group and you can download a free copy.

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Workshop Weekend

Sometimes you end up doing way too much.

I spent Friday at a Lean Management workshop. Check out this 90-second video Lean Management for a quick overview of the principles.

Yes, in case you’re wondering why I was there, it’s true – government agencies are into lean management. Continue reading “Workshop Weekend”

Iced

City bus stopShe waited at the bus stop, alone. He knew the bus would arrive in five minutes. She ignored him. He felt the need for ice from deep within his psyche. She read the romance she had downloaded the previous evening. He saw his target and executed his attack. Continue reading “Iced”

Dying days

They spent hours strolling along the beach in the dying days of summer.

What are dying days?

In the context of the sentence above, they are the dwindling days or the last days of summer. They represent that period of transition from the pleasant season of summer to the chill winds of autumn – announcing the imminent approach of winter coldness. Continue reading “Dying days”

Quick crime

He watched them walk to the bus stop and catch a bus into the city.

They would not be back for hours.

He entered the yard by the side gate. There was one large window in the rear wall of the house. It was shut. A gentle slide with his gloved hand revealed that it was not locked. The window opened into an open-plan kitchen. He stepped through into a cool interior, saturated with the smell of the bacon and eggs they’d shared for breakfast.

key-408559_640The keys were on the counter.

He backed their car into the street.

Too easy.


Thanks for dropping by, Peter.