By Elka Ray
1) As a writer, your characters become real to you – they’re not “characters” but people. Killing people – even unlikeable ones – is emotionally draining; learning why they were targeted even more so. While my stories aren’t depressing, they have sad moments. If you want readers to understand your characters’ motivations, you need to feel your characters’ pain.
2) No matter what, some readers will be convinced your characters are based on real people. Friends and acquaintances who read your work will know you turned So-and-So into a murderer or butchered poor What’s-His-Name. Funnily, this is especially true with the nasty characters. A lot of readers claimed to know the cheating femme fatale in my first romantic mystery novel, “Hanoi Jane”. Travelers have sent notes stating “I met a guy just like X in Bangkok” about my short story collection, “Tales of Obsession, Mystery & Murder in Southeast Asia”. ‘
Other readers are sure some bits are autobiographical. My latest suspense novel, “Saigon Dark”, follows a woman ensnared in a web of lies. I’ve gotten some weird looks since that one came out. I’ve stopped trying to explain: Writers make stuff up. We take grains of truth and grow them into elaborate fantasies that, hopefully, shed more truth.
3) If you want to write crime stories, get ready for disturbing research. Can blood be cleaned well enough to be undetectable by forensics? How deep should that shallow grave be? What dosage of what drug could cause a blackout? You’d better hope you’re never a suspect in a real-life crime because your Google history will be fascinating.
4) You’ll become obsessed. I used to read a lot more literary fiction but the ratio has tipped to crime and suspense. I listen to true crime podcasts too – and justify this addiction as “research”.
5) You will scare your friends and family. I recently outlined a new plot to my husband. His response? “Jeez, I’m afraid to sleep next to you.” Readers have accused me of being “really dark”, which I don’t think is accurate. As well as writing crime, I write and illustrate a series of kids’ picture books – full of cute, happy toddlers and bright colors. I think people – and good fictional characters – are contradictory. Yin and yang. Light and dark. Some of my writing uses disturbing events to reveal the good in people.
© 2017, Elka Ray. All rights reserved.