After a very long search for Abigail’s hero weapon, I’ve finally found a bad boy that would be dangerous, ridiculous and baddass enough to save the world with. This here is the Remington 1740, double barrel pump shotgun. What it really is, is actually two Remington 870’s that some maniac has attached to each other. One ejects to the left of the barrel and the other to the right. I’m sure it’s loud as hell, kicks like Bruce Lee and does more damage than Gary Busey on a coke binge.
If you want to write a crime novel, you’d better be ready to pick a fight. People are going to hate you and there’s nothing you can do about that.
They’re going to hate you for killing off their favorite characters, they’re going to lecture you for your use of bad language and they are going to resent you for taking them to places that challenge their values and beliefs. If you don’t like picking a fight, go write something else. But, if you like getting your knuckles bloody, you’ve come to the right place.
Writing is hard and finding your way through the words takes an immense amount of time. Here are 7 tips that I wish somebody had told me years before I put pen to paper.
(1) Don’t be boring
The worst crime a writer can commit is to be boring. I’d rather do serious time for murder than to be accused of being boring. If a crime novel turns out to be boring there’s a very high chance it is because the writer was bored while penning the decaf infused words. The worst piece of advice I have ever heard, and it’s slapped around like a 12 step mantra is, ‘Write what you know.’ It’s bullshit, never write what you know, write what excites you. You do that and that excitement will come across on the page and excite the reader.
(2) Grab the reader by the throat on the first page and don’t let go
In any story, the opening sentence, paragraph, page or chapter can be vital and crime writing is no exception. Start your story off like a shotgun blast in the middle of the night.
Here are a couple of opening types that have worked for me in the past.
The Action Opening: Start the novel with the hero in some sort of physical or emotional jeopardy
The Flashback Opening: Start with a moment of high drama from somewhere later in the novel and then flashback to the events leading up to it.
The First Day on the Job Opening: A good way to introduce the world to the reader is to discover it through the eyes of the hero. They may, as the title suggests, be starting a new job, or they may have just arrived in town.
The Everyday Hero Opening: Your protagonist is going about their everyday life and some event sends them spiraling off into another direction.
Outside Action: The outside action event could be a robbery, or a murder, or any problem that doesn’t involve the hero.
Never start with a description of the weather. In a crime novel, if you open with the description of the weather I’m going to think that the weather killed somebody.
(3) Have a crime
If you are writing a crime novel bad and awful things, sourced from the madness of your soul, need to happen. A crime novel without a crime isn’t a crime novel and a straight up murder isn’t going to cut it anymore. Give your criminals unique and conflicting reasons to be criminals. The bad guy in a story never knows he’s the bad guy. In his story, he’s the good guy. Your protagonist is only as strong as the forces of antagonism they are up against. Give them something to go up against.
*Note: A killer never kills because they are mad, there is always a reason.
(4) Don’t write likeable characters
Nobody likes likable characters. They may think they do and they may believe they do, but they really don’t. What they like are interesting characters. Characters that make mistakes, characters that think fast and think badly, flawed characters, but likeable characters. Likeable is boring. Crime novels are littered with sons of bitches, wild men, dubious women and double crossing bastards. Given the questionable nature of the characters that populate the pages of a crime novel, the question is how do you capture the hearts of the readers and keep them turning the page?
The answer is empathy.
Empathy is different from likable. Even the most renegade of criminal will detest a serial killer. But we are more than happy to read pages and pages of a serial killer roaming the streets of Florida murdering away for pleasure and work as Dexter does in Jeff Lindsey’s series. Readers don’t turn those pages because they like Dexter or believe in his cause. They do because they empathize with Dexter – he’s a guy who just wants to fit in.
Here are a couple of ways to create empathy.
- Make the hero funny
- Make the hero a victim
- Show the hero in a dilemma
- Show the hero being highly skilled
- Show the hero being selfless
(5) Endings that slap you in the face
A killer ending us just as important as a killer opening. The reader has been good enough to purchase your novel and read it all the way to the final pages so give them an ending that will knock them on their ass (and send them straight out to buy your next novel).
Great endings give the reader what they want but not in the way they expect it. It reads easy but it’s not. Think of the ending as a mini three-act structure with twists and turns, reversals, setbacks and new plans. And when you’re story is over, end it! That guy in the first act who had the really cool car and said those three cool lines of dialogue; to the hell with him — we don’t care where he ended up. As ‘B’ movie king, Roger Corman once said, when the monster is dead, the movie is over.
(6) Get into a fight
Get out of the office, hit the street and start a fight. I don’t care with who. I don’t care what about. You can’t expect to be a writer without getting out into the world and getting your heart and knuckles scraped. Don’t hide in the world, be a part of it, experience its disappointments and triumphs, anger and heartbreaks and put it all on the page.
(7) What the hell is your story about?
Well, what the hell is your story about?
This is the question you need to ask yourself every single day that you follow one word with another on the way to the final last few. I’m not talking about the high concept idea you pitch at parties where you say your novel is about a guy, from wherever, who does this, and that happens. I’m talking about what your story is about on a thematic level. What does it mean to you? What are you saying about the world with your story? What the hell is it really about?
It’s that hidden drive, buried deep in your sub-conscious that pushes you to get up early and stay up late pounding out the words at the typer. Some of us write out of anger, and some of us write out of sadness. The only way to define what it is you are really writing is to sit in that familiar position of pen in hand and write down a list:
Ten things that make you angry
Ten things that make you sad
Think about what relates to you most and give that trait to your protagonist. Bruce Wayne isn’t angry that his parents were murdered (although I’m sure that pissed him off) what really drives Bruce Wayne is that he is angry that people are not held responsible for their actions. Therefore, he becomes a vigilante. That is what is really at the heart of Batman. And whether you know it or not, there is something at the heart of your story and if you can define it, you can develop and explore it with a master’s control.
What I’ve been writing about here are only a few things that have helped me over my years in the war of the words, take what you can from it, and discard what you will. The words come differently to everyone. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow and sometimes not at all. In those times of darkness and empty pages remember that, if you wait, if you are patient, the words will always come.
The end of WWII left a generation of lost, young men with no place to go except for the dusty highways where they would ride on two wheel metal beasts, through endless days and nights trying to find someplace to belong. They had names like Hells Angels, The Finks and The Mongols. But there was no place in society for these broken men so they embraced being outlaws in both spirit and law. Two decades later the Vietnam war began and as the years passed, more and more veterans returned to a country that didn’t recognise or want them. And more young men hit the road in search of meaning and freedom. Those days have passed and now thirty years later biker gangs have clubhouses, run charities, guns, drugs, legal businesses and not so legal businesses. At times, violence has spilled out into the streets, and the innocent have become a permanent fixture in the landscape of collateral damage.
To combat this in Queensland, Premier Campbell Newman is introducing ‘biker specific’ laws that brand 26 bikers gangs as criminal organisations. They apply to anyone on two wheels, wearing a patch and who congregate in groups of more than three.
Here is what they are facing:
- Jail terms of between two and five years for members of outlawed gangs who are caught associating with each other
- The Supreme Court would be responsible for determining which gangs are outlawed, based on evidence provided by the Police
- The gang members would be given no warnings before charges are applied
The laws are being introduced into Queensland as I type, and are highly likely to be replicated within Victoria and NSW. I endorse the dismantling of criminal organizations. Arrest those who have murdered, throw the book at those who deal in drugs, and jail the swine who pop off automatic gunfire into suburban streets.
But wait? Hold on a minute?
Don’t we already have laws for criminality such as that?
So what the hell is going on now?
If these laws are to be passed within Victoria, it would make it legal for authorities to arrest biker members who fraternise with one another, wear the same colors, and congregate in certain prescribed areas. Sounds okay if you don’t think too hard about it. But if you do think hard about it, who else could these laws be applied to? If we are to brand organisations criminal because they are a bunch of people who all wear the same colors, hoon around on motorcycles and fraternise together then what about the Australia Post Service? They’re the biggest bloody biker gang in the entire country… AND THEY’RE EVERYWHERE!
And who decides what defines a criminal organization? These laws could easily be applied to activist organisations, unions or any group the Government decides to dislike for whatever reason. These new laws are so vague, they don’t even need to specify a reason for such damaging branding. If that’s the case, what happens if by some horrible accident we, the Australian people, accidently elect some crazy bigot, then who’s the next target? Religious groups, book clubs, girl scouts, football teams, people still wearing Ed Hardy tee shirts? These laws can be applied to any group any Government sees fit to dislike at that given point in time. If this was sixty years ago, these laws could have been applied to Women’s Liberation or Civil Rights Groups. In our current climate could they be applied to Same Sex Marriage advocates and let’s not forget about the big one… Religion. Because people of any religion never fraternise with one another, wear similar outfits, and congregate in certain prescribed areas. And now more than ever, Australia has a diversity when it comes to religion and culture.
Arrest criminals. Arrest killers. Arrest drug dealers. But once you start arresting people based on the associations they belong to, the weak and fearful will begin doing so toward anything and absolutely everything they don’t understand. And when that happens we lose who we are as a society and the promise of who we can be.
If you want to create an outlaw, create a law that excludes people from society, and you’ll have more than enough of them than you can handle.
First published at Murder is Everywhere
A few months before Dark City Blue was unleashed on the world I thought creating a book trailer would be a fun way to raise awareness for its release. This post chronicles my adventures of creating a book trailer, from the development of the script, through the various stages of production, and finally the launch.
Until deciding to shoot a trailer for DCB, my exposure to them was, on a whole, relatively limited. So armed with nothing but an iPad, I researched book trailers like I was on the Warren Commission. They generally fell into one of three categories.
The ‘Fuck Yeah’ Book Trailer – The one where straight after you watch it, you buy the book.
The ‘Eh?’ Book Trailer – The one that has no emotional impact on you, you don’t give a shit and you don’t buy the book.
The ‘Turn that thing off’ Book trailer – The one where you contemplate suicide while watching it. My obituary would be a better read.
I wanted DCB to have a ‘Fuck Yeah’ book trailer and found they all had similar things in common:
- They were cinematic
- They were 60-90 seconds in length
- They had one, single message to convey to the audience
I went down to my local pub, pulled out my pen and notebook and came up with twenty ideas. They were all rubbish and it wasn’t the booze. The first twenty ideas of anything are always the weakest. They’re the ideas that come off the top of your head, the ideas that everybody else has. It isn’t until you start putting in those hard hours of staring at the wall that you truly come up with something original.
Well, I didn’t come up with anything that night, I got drunk and went home. But the next night I went back the Post Office Hotel and stared at the wall of their toilet block for a few hours until I came up with the concept which went on to become the script… One location, one shot and we pull back to reveal the hero standing in the aftermath of a bloody shootout (it’s that kind of book).
I wanted a trailer that would best represent the essence of the book. A trailer that would make a promise to the reader that in reading Dark City Blue, they’re in for a hell of an action ride where the line between cop and criminal is blurred.
That one idea was all I started with before writing the script.
After the script was in place, the fun started.
With a script in hand, the next steps were to put together the elements needed to realise the words on the page. Once the awesome Jason Christou came on board to direct the production jumped along in leaps and bounds. He understood the script and the book and how one needed to represent the other.
We were only in pre-production for two weeks and for that time, Jason and I turned into a newly married couple. We hung out, we emailed we were on the phone everyday. The trailer became our baby and we wanted it to be the best it could be.
The key to a smooth film shoot, and despite the length of the trailer, it was still a film shoot, is planning. Something is always going to go wrong and if you’re organised, you can adapt and stop that one small problem from turning into a disaster that destroys the whole bloody thing.
So we created a pre-production checklist:
LOCATION: Shooting in one location was a great idea to cut down on production costs and time. What we were looking for needed to be rough, gritty and just downright authentic. I hit the streets of Brunswick in search of back alley’s and graffiti covered car parks but in the end the best place to shoot was in the car park underneath my flat (currently available for rent, blood stains included). Creatively, it fitted what we needed, we could control the light, the weather and importantly we had access to electricity.
CAST & CREW: For a crew, we needed a director of photography, a camera crew, a make-up artist and a sound designer. Not to forget two principal actors and a couple of extras to play dead bodies. Jason hit the phone and the principal cast and crew came together quickly. They were guys he had worked with previously; he knew how they operated and what their work looked on screen. Finding a handful corpses proved to be a little harder. Nobody wanted to lay on the cold concrete for half a day and who could blame them. Family members were recruited and they did their duty like method actors.
GEAR: When it came to gear we were armed with:
- HD Camera and a DOP who knew how to use it.
- 35mm lenses
- 1 4K light to blast our dank car park with light.
- A dolly for that smooth pull back feel.
- And gaffer tape, because on a shoot, it will save your life.
COSTUME: Our costumes were a mismatch of what Jason and I rustled up from the depths of our wardrobes and what the actors bought with them on the day. We had a lot of fake blood that can destroy and outfit quicker than a real murder, so we needed what we called disposable clothes that could be thrown out at the end of the shoot.
PROPS: We needed guns. We were happy to use imitation guns, in fact we endorsed it. It was the right thing to do but somehow the process of hiring a couple of fake weapons was seedier than buying the real thing. We found an armourer and in the back of his dungeon like store was where he kept the guns. He looked over his shoulder before opening the drawer as if what he was about to do was highly questionable. The armourer wasn’t much of a people person or maybe he didn’t appreciate Jason and me pretending to be Riggs and Murtaugh? Either way, it was an uncomfortable situation and I’ve bought drugs in a more relaxed environment than this.
In the end, we got our hands on an imitation Glock as our hero gun and a bagful of plastic guns from the junk shop down the road from my house.
We had a call time of 7AM and a wrap of 4PM. I’m not going to go into a great deal of detail about being on set because our shoot went as smooth as any shoot can go. We had no problems, we shot exactly what we needed and we even finished a couple of hours ahead of schedule (I just love it when a plan comes together).
But here are the highlights:
One of our corpses, Harry, didn’t move for twenty five minutes. We thought we killed him but it turned out he was just one hell of a method actor.
Then there was some waiting…
A spider invaded Mia’s makeup bag. Bob saved the day while the rest of the guys froze up.
We had some lunch and then there was more waiting. Most of the time spent on a film shoot is waiting. It takes time to set up a location. The set needs to be lit, it needs to be dressed and the director and DOP need to work out the best way to shoot it.
Post production is really where the scripting, planning and shooting all came together and took shape. We broke our post up into two parts: The edit and sound.
EDIT: We shot on a Friday and by the end of the weekend Jason had a cut together. We only had half a dozen shots but the same rule of editing applied; if it doesn’t push the story forward, that bastard had to be cut. And with that methodology, Jason and I lost our favourite shot of the entire production; this cooler than cool mid shot of Bishop aiming his gun.
Whether it’s on the page or on the screen, you have to be a slave to the story. If something needs to be cut, then you rip it out and forget it was even there. Less is more and the audience will thank you. Always leave them wanting more.
SOUND: People typically forget about the audio component of the audio visual experience. They forget that the way we feel when we watch something is manipulated, without us even knowing it, by what we hear. It can be a high pitched ring that makes us feel uneasy or a whoosh to let us know that the character who just walked into the room is a guy that’s not to be trusted. Julian Langdon and Dan MacDonald were behind the music and sound of the Dark City Blue trailer and if you don’t think audio requires as much attention as the visual, watch the trailer with the sound turned down.
I turned up in the last couple of hours of the sound mix and by the time all the heavy lifting had been done and I was completely blown away by what I heard. The audio bought a whole other layer of dark complexity and foreboding that you wouldn’t get from the visual alone.
Great sound is invisible, but you feel it. Bad sound sticks out and you don’t feel anything.
Now that the trailer for Dark City Blue is complete and out in the world, its success and effectiveness is something that will have to be gauged over time. But for now being, we’re just going to have to be content with having a killer book trailer on our hands.
Check it out, I hope you enjoy it.
If you’re keen to see some ‘Fuck Yeah,’ trailers that inspired me, check these out.
Gone by Mo Hayder
The Last Policemen by Ben Winters
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
Dark City Blue Book Trailer Credits
Bishop: Brett Cousins
Walsh: Bob Morley
Dead Cops: Dale Eastwell Harry Emin Foad Comanderi
Director/Producer: Jason Christou
Writer/Producer: Luke Preston
DOP: Matt Wood
Make Up Mia-Kate Russell
Camera Assistant: Anthony Rilocapro
Prod Assistant: Todd Farley
Sound Recordist: Dan MacDonald
Editor: Jason Christou
Music: Julian Langdon
Sound Design: Dan MacDonald