The indieBRAG Crime and Mystery Series
I am pleased to introduce RAR Clouston author of The Covenant Within
Bob, welcome and thank you for sharing with us-
Stephanie: When writing crime fiction, there are usually several characters involved. What is your advice in presenting each character so they stand out?
Bob: At the risk of sounding like my social psych professor in what seems like an eternity ago during my undergraduate days as a psychology major, we are all the product of both nature and nurture. And this is never truer than with the villains who populate thrillers and mystery stories. We are shaped by the multitude of forces, both genetic and social, that make us who we are. What drives someone to a life of crime, or even worse, to become a heartless killer? An obvious answer is that they were the offspring of truly evil parents who gave them tainted genes, or raised them in a cruel and heartless home, or both. But there are also exceptions to this as evidenced by the cases of cold blooded killers who came from a “normal’ home. My point is this: we are all different and as such a writer must be careful to avoid stereotypes. A reader will quickly turn away from a cardboard character, good or evil. Therefore, the way to keep each character separate is to create a backstory for each one—in your mind if not on the written page—so that we know who they are, where they came from , what they are afraid of, and what they really want or need. In this manner, each will stand alone in a story even if they act together.
Stephanie: 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?
Bob: Building on my first point, and taking a central theme from one of my novels, in every bad person there is a trace of goodness, and in every good person there is a hint of evil, however deeply hidden it may be. Therefore, it is the writer’s job to find that element in each of his or her characters and use it to either generate empathy and possibly even sympathy for the villain; and conversely, to evoke a feeling of discomfort or perhaps even dislike for the hero.
Stephanie: 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?
Bob: Great question! It isn’t easy. Mystery or thriller writers who have achieved great success—and the riches that accompany it—can afford to have assistants whose main task is to do just that. For the rest of us lesser gods of the keyboard we must do it ourselves. The way I do it is rather simple: I summarize each scene from my story on a poster board and constantly refer back to it as I write. Obviously, a digital version of this would equally serve the purpose. However, I like to have this “hardcopy” somewhere within eyesight so that as the story unfolds I can refer back to the board. This allows me to make sure each occurrence is connected in a cohesive and well-directed movement toward the ultimate climax of the story.
Stephanie: Crime fiction must be believable. Real-life for the basis of your story is important. How do you incorporate this?
Bob: Well first, and this might sound like a blinding flash of the obvious, when I am writing about a character who does something particularly willful or wicked, I research what real life criminals have done in similar acts of evil. And drawing upon my answer to the first question, I am particularly intrigued by what their background was, what motivated them, how were they caught, and what was their fate. And second, within limits, I try to imagine myself as the evil character and ponder what I would do, and how I would do it. I say within limits because I never write about the truly worst of humanity, namely child killers or rapists.
Stephanie: How do you prevent your story from becoming boring?
Bob: I regularly stop and review what I have written with my greatest critic and most skillful content editor—my wife. If she likes it and is interested in where I am going with the story, I keep it. If not, it ends up in the virtual trash can. And although I will deny it if you tell her, some of my best writing came directly from her mind.
Stephanie: How should a writer “not” start the opening line to their crime story?
Bob: Oh boy. I don’t know. I suppose “It was a dark and stormy night” might be a good one to avoid. Seriously, the best openings are those that quickly grab you and draw you in; of course, every talented writer has a different approach to this. The tactic that I find particularly effective is where the writer paints a word picture of something frightening that is about to occur without hitting you over the head with it. Like a lion pacing back and forth just beyond the flickering flames of a dying campfire, it evokes an almost primal sense of fear that you cannot help but be drawn toward, even though you know you will be consumed by it.
Stephanie: What are the key components in writing crime fiction you might not have mentioned above?
Bob: Beyond believable characters and a well-crafted plot, the most important thing is pace; every sentence and paragraph and chapter must add something. And show don’t tell.
Stephanie: What are the crime thrillers you read to inspire you?
At last, an easy question. The late John D. McDonald, John Sandford, Michael Connelly, Robert Crais and Daniel Silva are my favorite thriller and mystery writers. I admire them and envy their talent.
Thank you Stephanie for including me in the series and thank you indieBRAG for all you do!
Learn more about R.A.R. Clouston
The Covenant Within