Writing tips from Mariusz Czubaj – How to write crime fiction

1. Watch, and listen to, what is going on around you. A crime writer is like a jackal living off the   leftovers of everyday life. These are the details that make the framework of the story. If you write retro crime fiction, then be a jackal in a library, amongst old newspapers

2. Ask experts for help. Nobody is perfect, a crime writer can be wrong too. But it would be unfortunate if, for example, he/she was wrong about police procedures or forensic medicine…

3. Give your character some space. Write about him/her in such a way that leaves an open door, that allows you to use his/her past, feelings, family etc. in later novels.

4. Be patient, part I: when you come up with a scene, think if you can write it in a different (and better) way. Sometimes you can…

5. Be patient, part II: don’t rush ahead. Crime fiction is not a sprint with Usain Bolt! You don’t need to race with James Patterson either. It’s true, action creates suspense, but sometimes a break makes for an even better suspense.

6. Be patient, part III: ‘blank screen syndrome’ is not your problem. Have a daily writing quota, write a set number of words. You can always use the ‘delete’ button – just like a protagonist of a certain story by Stephen King.

7. Find a starting point for your story. I usually start with a dead body and modus operandi. How did ‘it’ happen – that is my key question. The rest comes easily…

8. Read other crime novels. Reading is for a writer like training is for a sportsman. How would you retell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon or Arthur Conan Doyle’s Five Orange Pips?

9. Don’t be scared to improvise. Even if you plan everything with Garry Kasparov’s precision, don’t forget that a crime novel is a bit like live jazz played in a smoky club…

10. Decide for yourself what the tenth point should be…

(translated by Anna Hyde)

 

Mariusz Czubaj is a cultural anthropologist and a bestselling author in Poland. His first crime novel featuring profiler Rudolf Heinz, 21:37 (21:37, 2008), won the High Calibre Award for the Best Polish Crime Novel in 2009. In 2011 he published the second book on Rudolf Heinz, Kołysanka dla mordercy (‘Lullaby for a Murderer’), and the third, Zanim znowu zabiję (‘Before I Kill Again’), was released in 2012. 21:37 is Czubaj’s first novel published in English. The novel was translated by Anna Hyde.