Monday, October 13, 2014

Dodging a bullet

Is there a type of crime you won't write about? 

by Meredith Cole

Some people probably think that mystery readers are a blood thirsty lot. We like nothing better than to curl up with a lurid tale and consume all the gory details. But the truth is that quite a few of our number is--how should I put it?--a bit prudish. Many readers I know have a long list of items that they do not like in a book and will "throw it across the room" if they run across these objectionable things in a book (hopefully missing any hapless passersby and/or the writer). And others will find a book decidedly flat if it doesn't contain any of those things. So what's a poor writer to do?

I think every writer should write about what they're interested in and what they like to read. When my child was small, I couldn't read books in which children were kidnapped or killed. I just couldn't. My overprotective mother imagination was already working overtime and didn't need any help. So I certainly didn't write any books where children were endangered either. But I don't rule out becoming fascinated by a story land writing a book with a child victim some day when my own child is safely into adulthood.

I'm not very interested in writing about professional criminals. Mobsters, for instance, who kill people as part of their daily routine are as fascinating to me as office workers who do data entry. But I enjoy reading books by others where the traditional mobster story is given a new twist--something that makes it different from every other book that came before.

I think our only choice as authors is to write books with as much skill and talent as we can muster and find out audience among the people who like to read what we're writing about. And every once in a while we can also become the "exception" to someone's rule. "I don't normally like books where the murderer is the narrator," they'll say, "but I just couldn't put this one down!" Indeed.


Janet Costello said...

Meredith, as a writer of screenplays, would you handle these "going too far" areas differently than when publishing in print?

Meredith Cole said...

That's a great question, Janet! I think there are definitely different rules and standards for screenplays--and something that might feel too extreme in a novel might be quite acceptable in a movie, for instance. Most of time I just use my own internal gauge to figure out whether something is going too far for me (but using readers in the biz is helpful, too!).

Paul D. Marks said...

Meredith, I think what you say about writing what you're interested in and want to read is the key. Because if you try get in on a trend you've probably already missed it. And there's readers out there for just about everything, the trick is to find them...

Meredith Cole said...

You're so right, Paul. And if you're told that no one is buying books about what you're writing, don't worry about it. By the time you finish it and get it published, the trend will probably come around again!