How I turned to crime (and you can too): Tamara M Bailey

1. No police contacts.

2. No way to keep up with the ever-changing world of forensics.

3. Most knowledge of law comes from TV.

Three excellent reasons to steer clear of crime writing.

I doubt I’m the only one who’s felt this way. Taking on the crime genre is intimidating. Not only do you get tangled in details, but how do you lay out the clues, red herrings, and plot twists to make a satisfying story? For a long time, I enjoyed the talent of other writers rather than try it for myself. And when I did try it, I started plotting a whodunnit but lost interest halfway through. I’m not a plotter by nature.

I’m not a plotter by nature.

The joy I find in writing comes from discovering the story and the characters as I go. So what was I doing plotting a book? Even a crime book?

I decided to approach this the way I tackle any manuscript – by letting the tale unfold one page at a time. But what about those three problems I started with? And how could I write something fresh when it felt like every crime story had already been told?

Here’s where my fantasy background came in. With fantasy, you create your own rules, your own forensics, your own legal system. It may sound hard, but I found it easier than trying to keep up with our ever-changing technology.

So, once I’d mapped out my fantasy world and had a vague concept of my characters, I began to write. I’d read and watched enough crime stories to sense the right moments to drop in plot twists, red herrings, and clues. I knew when to introduce a suspect and seemingly insignificant details. By the time I’d gotten to the end, I’d followed my detective through interviews, dissections, and surprising discoveries. The killer could only be one person, and I’d found them alongside my protagonist.

Of course, there was still a lot of research and tidying to do, but the story was written. More than that, it was a pleasure.

Now, if you’re a devoted plotter and don’t go anywhere near fantasy, my method won’t help you. But what you can take away from this is the fact that I used my own writing style, and it worked. Just because people say you need to know the killer before you start, doesn’t make it true. Same with having to write the entire manuscript in order. Or planning all the clues beforehand. If you’ve got a system, use it. And maybe, if your system’s different to the one most other writers are using, you might come up with something original – and have fun in the process.

Tamara M Bailey’s adult novels include her techno-thriller, The Other Olivia, and her fantasy crime novel, Blood and Stone, which will be out this year with Clan Destine Press. Info here.