When Writing in the True Crime Genre, Don’t Call It the Good Stuff
I’d say we’re getting to the good stuff of the nonfiction world. The drama. The intrigue. The shock value. Except that writing in the true crime genre is exactly that: writing about true crime.
That means true criminals.
And true atrocities.
Yup. That’s right. Atrocities. You’re not going to find too much writing in the true crime genre about petty acts of vandalism. Even much more significant and costly crimes like breaking and entering, bank robberies, kidnapping and arson won't make major appearances in these types of books.
Not unless they end in something much more horrific like murder. Multiple times over.
When you’re writing in the true crime genre, you’re writing about vicious animals: the kind of serial killers Hollywood inevitably makes big-budget films about. So we’re talking people – and I use that term very loosely – like:
Latin America’s Pedro Alonso Lopez (Columbia, Ecuador and Peru)
Latin America’s Luis Garavito (Columbia)
Indonesia’s Ahmad Suradji
The U.S.’s Gary Ridgway…
And the list sadly goes on. According to a Life Daily post termed “The 10 Worst Serial Killers of the 20th Century,” those men rank #1, #2, #6 and #7 for killing 310-350 (or more), 172-400 (or more), 70-80, and 71-90 (or more) victims respectively.
If you don’t want to be utterly sickened, don’t go digging into those stories. Though if you’re writing in the true crime genre… then that’s exactly what your job description is.
True crime is a special kind of historical nonfiction. So special that it gets classified as its own genre altogether. But really, it’s a subset of historical nonfiction when it comes down to it... or maybe it’s biography?
I suppose it depends on how the writer wants to spin it... whether from the perp or head detective’s perspective, or through the eyes of a much more omniscient narrator.
Either way, it’s telling the true story of how a crime or related series of crimes went down.
That’s why this is anything but the good stuff. It’s macabre. Disturbing. Disgusting. And so many other negative words that are escaping me right now.
Even so, there are some definite draws to delving into it.
There’s the sick kind of fascination some people have with deep, dark drama. That makes up a very large part of such books’ readership and maybe even some of its “writership” as well.
But fascination with true crime stories can easily go beyond that selfish surface level.
From a fiction writer’s perspective, reading in the true crime genre can help gain a more intimate (creepily so, but the word still works) sense of the criminal mind.
From a psychologist’s perspective, reading – or writing – in the true crime genre can help gain a deeper understanding of how the human brain works.
From a criminal justice professional’s perspective, it’s all about studying what has happened and can happen in order to better identify and deal with what does happen.
And from an independent reader’s perspective, honestly, it’s not always a bad thing to see just how bad our species can get so we know what we’re capable of when we let ourselves go.
So if you’re writing in the true crime genre, there’s not an automatic need to psychoanalyze yourself. Just the criminals you’re studying.