Crime as a Literary Genre

Definition – Examples – How to Write

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Hello Lovelies, and welcome back to the blog. Last week, we started learning about the fifth Pillar of Genre, Fiction. We went over a definition for Romance, and we talked about some examples and how to write it. This week, I want to dive deeper into the next of those subgenres, that of Crime. Let’s get started.

Crime Definition

Crime fiction is the genre of fiction that deals with crimes, their detection, criminals, and their motives. The same as many types of fiction, crime novels may take place in fantastical settings, or they can have magical elements, or mix any number of other things into the plot, but the crime and the solving of the crime are the primary drivers of the novel’s plot.

Examples

There are so many examples for Crime, that I will attempt to give you both classic and modern examples here, so you might get a feel for what this genre is really about.

  • Tales of Mystery & Imagination by Edgar Allan Poe

Some of the most exciting and haunting stories ever written, including ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ and ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’, can be found in this collection of Poe’s work. These Gothic tales range from the poetic to the mysterious to the darkly comic.

  • The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

Follow Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as they pit their wits against ‘Napoleon of Crime’ Professor Moriarty; assist European royalty threatened by disgrace; and solve the mysterious death of a young woman due to be married.

  • Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

Darren Mathews is a black Texas Ranger living in East Texas, torn up about his allegiance to his state and his career. He’s tried to leave the state, but has not been able to leave for long. He’s loyal to his badge, but also to his family, and suddenly his ties to his identity put his job at risk. It’s amid all of this that he travels to investigate two murders—a black Northern lawyer, and a white Southern woman. It’s this crime that causes the already chafing, seething racial tensions and discriminations to dangerously boil over. It’s one of the richest, fullest, most gut-wrenching crime stories I’ve read. And it meets this terrible era in American history passionately and eloquently to beautifully, powerfully condemn it.

  • Night Prayers by Santiago Gamboa

In Night Prayers, Santiago Gamboa presents the reader with his usual narrator-proxy, that of Santiago Gamboa, cultural attaché. He’s stationed in New Delhi, but his work takes him to Bangkok, where he launches into the investigation of a young man’s imprisonment on drug trafficking charges, and then to his sister’s disappearance under mysterious, sinister circumstances. Gamboa is a worthy heir to Roberto Bolaño, and his version of this mystery is infinitely, artfully complex, weaving together a somewhat bumbling investigation, a family’s intimate tragedies, and the story of the Colombian world diaspora in recent decades. Night Prayers is everything a searching, ambitious noir should be.

  • Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie

In Agatha Christie’s most famous murder mystery, a train journey is delayed by thick snow. So when a passenger on the train is found murdered in his bed, it is the perfect opportunity for Agatha Christie’s famous detective, Hercule Poirot, to prove his ability and solve the crime using the power of his brain.

How to Write Crime as a Literary Genre

You’re interested in the crime novel, but not convinced that there absolutely needs to be a dead body on the first page like you’ve heard from so many other pieces of writing advice. And truthfully, neither am I. When we look at both modern examples and examples from antiquity, death is far from the only thing that can be criminal in this day and age. So how do we approach writing crime as a literary genre?

Remember that Crime itself is a huge subgenre of Fiction, that itself has its own types of subgenres, such as thrillers, detectives, and mystery. The way you write these subsets will vary greatly, and you should do your own research before attempting to write any specific type of genre. That being said, I like the way the crime genre is laid out in the Story Grid Blog. You can find that post in its entirety by following this link, but in general, there are six crucial moments in any crime novel:

  1. The crime and its victim(s). Especially in the stories where the event is seemingly victimless, there must be an inciting moment that introduces the crime and the person who was made victim to it..
  2. A speech where the villain is praised. The cunning or brilliance of the antagonist must be praised by one or more characters or shown in a revelation. This creates both tension and camaraderie within the reader for the antagonist of the story.
  3. Discovering and understanding the antagonist’s MacGuffin. This is the key clue that helps the investigator make sense of the inciting crime, and is usually introduced during the first act. In a spoiler for Silence of the Lambs, it’s the moth flying past Clarice that gives away the true identity of the murderer going by the name of Buffalo Bill.
  4. Progressively complicating the following of the clues. This is the process by which the investigator uncovers the antagonist’s identity, and it must get more difficult to piece together with each new clue that the investigator receives.
  5. Exposure of the Criminal. This is the main event, the big scene every reader is waiting for. Your entire crime novel is building toward this big reveal.
  6. Bring the criminal to justice (or don’t). In order to resolve the conflict, you must either bring the criminal to justice, or allow them to escape in a clever way. The reader must feel like they got a satisfying ending, so either way you choose, don’t cheat them out of it. Moriarty almost never gets into a personal conflict and brought to justice, no matter how esteemed a detective Sherlock Holmes may be, but we still want to read the next entry.  

Next Week

Next week, we are moving through the Fiction Pillar of Genre, and talking about the Historical Fiction Genre. There are a ton of subgenres that fall under the fiction category and I am so excited to go over them all and find out your favorites. Stay tuned for historical fiction next week and throughout the rest of the year!

Discussion Questions

  1. What is your favorite work of fiction?
  2. Do you have a favorite type of fiction subgenre?
  3. What genre is your favorite to read in, and do you write in the same genre or a different one?
  4. What is the most important reason writers should be aware of genre and its conventions?
  5. What questions would you like to see me answer in a blog post or podcast episode?

Leave your answers in the comments section for this post!

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