We’d like to welcome B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Liv Hadden today. Stephanie has some interesting questions to ask her about crime fiction.
Liv, when writing crime fiction, there is usually several characters involved. What is your advice in presenting each character so they stand out?
For me, dialogue is a great way to create distinctions between characters. For example, my main character is extremely sardonic, and that comes across in their responses to others via word choice and sarcasm. One of my supporting characters is young, naïve, and extremely positive, so his dialogue reflects that with a lot of “dudes, bros” and exclamations. I also think physical attributes, like a nervous tick, are great ways to define characters.
I think it is important for writers to give conflicting reasons for their characters to be criminals. For readers to find that connection-if you will-or to perhaps sympathize with them. How do you pull that off and what is your advice on doing so?
Honestly, I think this is easy. Think about real life—all humans are complicated. We all have complex intentions and motivations as well as rich histories. Society does a disservice to humanity by labeling someone as “bad” or “good”. What we should be creating distinctions about are behaviors—there are behaviors with negative impacts and behaviors with positive impacts. And, sometimes, our behaviors have both a negative and positive impact. The easiest way to create an interesting villain is to understand that. You are not so different from “the bad guy” at your core, it’s the tiny choices along the way and the impact those choices have that leads each of us down a path of destruction or light. It’s worth noting that even our heroes do things with negative consequences!
Crime Fiction can be difficult to write because it contains many plot-lines. How do you keep track on who has done what and when?
Outline, outline, outline. You don’t have to bullet point every little thing, but I’ve learned the hard way that not creating some sense of continuity at the beginning sets you up for a long editing process. The worst thing you can do is create too many subplots or completely irrelevant ones. They take the suspense out of the story and the reader out of the world you’ve created. If you’re a discovery writer, you’re probably cringing at me right now—I’m a discovery writer too! You don’t have to be trapped by your outline, simply adjust the outline as you discover new things about your characters or the plot. The good news is once you’ve made the change, you now understand how it’s going to affect the rest of the story. James Patterson says he rarely sticks with his first ending.
Crime fiction must be believable. Real-life for the basis of your story is important. How do you corporate this?
Research. You, just like your reader, have access to more information than any generation before. Don’t make it up. Don’t know the difference between gun calibers? Research it. Unsure what proper police procedure is? Research it. Not sure what motivates a serial killer? Research it. You can find forum upon forum with real-life people to interview, and wiki upon wiki of resources. There are no excuses for lazy writing anymore.
How do you prevent your story from becoming boring?
Most of this happens in editing for me. Does each scene move the plot forward? If not, it gets cut. Obviously plot twists and action scenes are great, but they can be overused. If you’re feeling unsure about a paragraph, scene, or chapter, ask yourself, “So what?” Sure, Donald goes fishing for the weekend to get away from the stress of being a full-time homicide detective, but so what? If you can’t answer that, or the answer doesn’t directly tie into the plot or character arc, erase it. Every sentence, paragraph, and chapter to propel the storyline forward.
How should a writer “not” start the opening line to their crime story?
Open any crime fiction book you can find—don’t write that. It’s been done. Crime fiction readers are looking for fresh and exciting. Also, please do not start with the inner thoughts of your villain. It might sound super creative to you, but all that tells me as a reader is that you either know nothing about the genre or you’re completely unoriginal. Now, if your villain is one of your narrators, that’s different (i.e. Along Came a Spider). But writing some scene where they’re slicing and dicing some innocent person just for shock value is old hat and *yawn* boring. Been there, done that, move on.
What are the key components in writing crime fiction you might not have mentioned above?
I think the most important thing is that both your protagonist and antagonist need to be equally complex in motive and background. It’s easy to write overused clichés in crime fiction—the alcoholic cop who’s been working too damn hard and lost everything for the sake of the job, or the psychopathic killer who has a creepy, controlling mother. I think it’s more interesting to create a villain that’s resourceful and clever or a hero that, despite the odds, sees the best in people and gets into trouble by being too trustworthy. It’s okay for your villain to be smarter than your hero—most crimes are solved when the bad guy makes a mistake anyway! Also, stop kidnapping and fridging women just to further the plot of your male protagonist. If your detective wasn’t motivated to truly find the killer until his wife/sister/girlfriend/daughter was kidnapped, he’s a crappy detective and doesn’t deserve his own novel.
What are the crime thrillers you read to inspire you?
Anything James Patterson. I don’t believe all his novels are gold, but despite that I can’t stop reading them. Just when I think I see where it’s going, he changes directions. I have to know how things end. I think Dan Brown does a great job with crazy and engaging puzzles. I’m also a big Lee Child fan—to be honest, I’ve had a crush on Jack Reacher for a long time (not Tom Cruise, to be clear). But, if I’m being 100% truthful, the novels I enjoy the most are J.D. Robb’s, aka Nora Roberts, In Death series. I’m a big Eve Dallas fan, and I love the futuristic setting and technology she’s incorporated. If I were stranded on an island, all I would need to stay sane is the In Death series!
Liv has been writing ever since she was a little girl. But, it wasn’t until 5th grade when her teacher said she’d one day write a book that she started taking it seriously. Her Shamed series began in college, when Hadden employed her writing as an outlet for her feelings during a serious bout of depression. After a brief, yet impactful first night of writing, she dreamt of a shadowy figure, tormented and demonized by their own mind and realized this was the shadow of pain that hurting people everywhere felt. She woke from her dream feeling more energized that she had in months, picked up her computer and began to write. “I felt if ever there was a story inside me and a character worth taking the leap, it was Shame and this story,” says Hadden. “This one in particular is personal in nature, and perhaps the very reason it’s so close to my heart.” Hadden has her roots in Burlington, Vermont and has lived in upstate New York and Oklahoma, where she went to college at the University of Oklahoma, and earned her degree in Environmental Sustainability Planning & Management. She now resides in Austin, TX with her husband and two dogs, Madison and Samuel and is an active member of the Writer’s League of Texas. Incredibly inspired by artistic expression, Hadden immerses herself in creative endeavors on a daily basis. She finds great joy in getting lost in writing and seeing others fully express themselves through their greatest artistic passions, like music, body art, dance and photography. “I get chills when I have the great privilege of seeing someone express their authentic selves,” says Hadden. “I believe it gives us a true glimpse into the souls of others.
Stephanie’s BRAG Interview with Liv HERE
Liv Hadden’s Website