PLOTTING MURDER: Tips on writing Thrillers and Mysteries


I watched a movie the other day about a writer who was working on a screenplay about a serial killer. He got into his research so deeply that he began killing teenage girls. While he held them hostage and told them they were going to die, he paid close attention to their reactions and after anchoring them in the bottom of the lake, he visited them daily to see how the bodies would deteriorate. The movie wasn’t all that great but I watched the whole thing anyway. I found his research methods fascinating.

I kinda understand. I’ve gotten a lot of information from police officers, FBI agents, psychiatrists, family counselors as well as countless books on the subject. I’ve struggled for just the right word, the perfect description. I called a mechanic once to ask how I might kill a character in a vehicle and make it look like an accident. Hope THAT conversation wasn’t taped by some governmental agency.

I went to a sporting goods store and talked with a salesman about hunting knives with gut hooks. And took pictures of a few of them. Those pictures are my screensaver, constantly reminding me of my serial killer’s weapon of choice.

My friend and I have spent hours discussing the subject of murder. Once, when we were walking in the park, we plotted to kill a character that otherwise wouldn’t let his daughter get married. Other walkers gave us a wide berth.

Another writer spent a couple of hours with me discussing the pros and cons of killing with a knife as opposed to other methods. We were sitting in the waiting room of a hospital while her husband was with the doctor. Everyone in the waiting room became very quiet while we talked, but when we looked around, they all diverted their eyes and whispered to each other.    Discussing murder over lunch is commonplace among writers and we often get the strangest looks, even when we explain we’re plotting to kill characters, not real people. Of course, they’re real people to us, but since we created them, we have the right to kill them if we want.

You need someone to bounce ideas off of. Preferably, someone who reads the genre and is willing to give you honest feedback. Join writer’s groups on-line. Find others in your area with an interest in writing and see if you can form your own group. 

Read the genre. Not just one or two books, but dozens. Go to the library and find the newest, most popular books in the genre you want to write, or if you can afford them, buy two or three.

Read them through. Then go back and look at how the book was set up. Count the pages and divide them into quarters. See what happens in the first quarter—the beginning, the second and third quarters—the middle, and the last quarter—the end. Study the characters, the back story, the goals, motivation, conflict, writing style.

If you decide to write a thriller, or a murder mystery, do your research thoroughly.  Unless you’re a killer, or a homicide detective, you probably don’t know enough to write a true-to-life murder mystery, or a thriller involving murder.

Readers of these genres know a lot about the way things are done by the authorities. They are usually big fans of television shows and movies depicting cops, FBI agents, serial killers, profilers, terrorists, etc. They probably read true crime magazines and books, which is another resource for you.

And if you disappoint one of them by not having your facts straight, you may lose that reader forever and also that source of ‘word of mouth’ advertising.

So, if you see someone around town discussing murder and how to get away with it, talk to them about it. It’s probably just a writer doing research. During this process, we don’t actually think of killing people. Honest. You can trust me. Hehehehehe…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s