Undercover Newshounds: Why Crime Fiction Writers are Like Journalists

Join Tessa Wegert, author of the upcoming suspense thriller Death in the Family, as she explores how the best crime and fiction writers can excel in their craft in their journalistic-like pursuit of truth.

As a bonus: sign-in and comment on this post to enter for a chance to win a copy of Tessa's new book, Death in the Family.

Regardless of characters, setting, or storyline, a single word always comes to mind when I read a Michael Connelly novel: authenticity. The details of how Harry Bosch, Mickey Haller, and Renée Ballard investigate crimes, identify suspects, and interact with their colleagues always withstand scrutiny.

In a recent review of Connelly’s newest book The Night Fire, the Los Angeles Times said the author “deploys a journalist’s approach to write fiction that crackles with veracity.” That’s probably because before he created his iconic characters, Connelly worked the crime beat for two local newspapers in Fort Lauderdale. There’s little doubt that he applies his knowledge of homicide and police investigations to his current work.

There’s even less doubt that it pays off.

According to Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel, who co-wrote The Elements of Journalism, the first principle of journalism is “the disinterested pursuit of truth.” This canon appears to lock horns with the practice of mystery writing, which is largely about fiction. On the surface, the journalistic process of gathering, distilling, and distributing information seems far too rigid for a creative endeavor. No one wants to be accused of info-dumping, or of listing facts without finesse.

But fiction writers value truth more than you might think. Nothing yanks a reader out of a story faster than a false fact or impossible plot point, so writing a mystery that’s realistic is crucial to gaining reader trust and loyalty. Real-world experience and in-depth research can help writers develop their ideas, often providing inspiration for their next character or novel.

In the case of Michael Connelly, the author has been known to base characters on real-life detectives, and takes pains to make them as genuine as possible. Renée Ballard was reportedly crafted in the likeness of Mitzi Roberts, an investigator with the Los Angeles Police Department’s Robbery-Homicide Division. Connelly told the LA Times he regularly breakfasts with Roberts. “I have amazing access, and she’s a big part of it,” he said of the detective life, “so I’d be a fool not to kind of try to harness that into something that I’m writing.”

Connelly’s not the only crime fiction author with journalistic roots. Ian Fleming, Stieg Larsson, Patricia Cornwell, and Hank Phillippi Ryan all worked in the industry prior to writing thrillers and mysteries. As a former freelance writer and editor, Julia Dahl—author of Invisible City, Run You Down, and Conviction—contributed to publications like The New York Post and The Crime Report. She now teaches journalism at NYU, and her next novel is about a missing NYU student.

Then there’s Carl Hiaasen, who has written more than twenty works of fiction that include Strip Tease, Sick Puppy, and Razor Girl. Hiaasen is a veteran columnist for the Miami Herald, who years ago told The Washington Post he gets ideas for his satirical mysteries from Herald headlines.

Inspiration and authenticity aside, journalism can offer crime fiction authors practical lessons in honing their craft. Early on in my own career as a freelance journalist, I was initiated into the tradition of “The Five Ws.” Asking Who, What, When, Where, and Why not only ensures reporters address the fundamental details of a story and provide comprehensive coverage of the facts, but also helps to structure the story effectively.

Take a look at those “Five Ws” in the context of a mystery. Who conveys key details about your cast of characters. What determines the themes you want to express, and how they impact your storyline. Asking When ensures you track characters’ movements in relation to the protagonist and your murder victim, while Where establishes your setting and the role it plays in your story. Finally, there’s Why; without it, your murder victim wouldn’t have a motive. Conveniently, Why gets you thinking about what motivates your other characters, too.

There’s a sixth “W” that’s especially useful when you’re writing fiction, and that’s What If. Suffering writer’s block? Not sure where to take your plot from here? Asking What If (“What if your killer didn’t work alone?” “What if your victim wasn’t the intended target?”) can expand the scope of your story and produce some unexpected twists.

Whether you worked for a newspaper in the past or are simply eager to use time-honored strategies to your advantage, you’ll find journalism can be indispensable to your writing. Developing a synopsis for a manuscript submission is much like pitching a potential story to an editor. And what is copyediting if not fact-checking? When you interview an LA detective, a subject matter expert, or a local sheriff in small-town Upstate New York—as I did when writing Death in the Familyyou’ll be tapping into your innate reporting skills to ultimately create something that’s both accurate and engaging.

In order to pilot a plot, writers need to stick a spigot into our existing tank of knowledge. We must ask and answer countless questions, all while respecting the truth. That makes crime fiction authors investigators in their own right.

In other words, behind every novelist worth their salt there’s a newshound with notebook and pencil at the ready, determined to do right by their characters and make their readers proud.

*Author Photo © Crane Song Photography

Read More: Review of Death in the Family


About Death in the Family by Tessa Wegert:

A storm-struck island. A blood-soaked bed. A missing man. In this captivating mystery that’s perfect for fans of Knives Out, Senior Investigator Shana Merchant discovers that murder is a family affair.

Thirteen months ago, former NYPD detective Shana Merchant barely survived being abducted by a serial killer. Now hoping to leave grisly murder cases behind, she’s taken a job in her fiancé’s sleepy hometown in the Thousand Islands region of Upstate New York.

But as a nor’easter bears down on her new territory, Shana and fellow investigator Tim Wellington receive a call about a man missing on a private island. Shana and Tim travel to the isolated island owned by the wealthy Sinclair family to question the witnesses. They arrive to find blood on the scene and a house full of Sinclair family and friends on edge.

While Tim guesses they’re dealing with a runaway case, Shana is convinced that they have a murder on their hands. As the gale intensifies outside, she starts conducting interviews and discovers the Sinclairs and their guests are crawling with dark and dangerous secrets.

Trapped on the island by the raging storm with only Tim whose reliability is thrown into question, the increasingly restless suspects, and her own trauma-fueled flashbacks for company, Shana will have to trust the one person her abduction destroyed her faith in—herself. But time is ticking down, because if Shana’s right, a killer is in their midst and as the pressure mounts, so do the odds that they’ll strike again.


Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Death in the Family by Tessa Wegert!

To enter, make sure you’re a registered member of the site and simply leave a comment below.

Death in the Family Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/undercover-newshounds-why-crime-fiction-writers-are-like-journalists/ beginning at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) February 19, 2020. Sweepstakes ends at 1:59 p.m. ET February 25, 2020. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10010.

Learn More Or Order A Copy

Comments

  1. John Quiring

    Sounds interesting!

  2. Commercial Inflatables

    Hiii,
    It’s very interesting topic of blog posting site. There are different kind of blog post is very crucial.

  3. happy wheels

    the content is great, I have read a lot of articles, but for your article, it left me a deep impression, thank you for sharing.

  4. Inflatable Event Tent San Diego

    Hiii,
    It is nice content post here.We must ask and answer countless questions, all while respecting the truth. That makes crime fiction authors investigators in their own right. Thank u…

  5. Camera Remote

    Hello,
    wow, it’s nice article. i got more information about In the case of Michael Connelly, the author has been known to base characters on real-life detectives, and takes pains to make them as genuine as possible. Thank u…

  6. Futura Jaws and Vices

    Hiii,
    I am extremely impressed with your writting article as well as with thearrange blog post.

  7. Padmini Rao

    Would love to win a copy. I love thrillers.

  8. John Smith

    II think I will comment here, as did 5 blatant-spam robot messages (so far) posting gibberish from pretend non-people that signed up to this site!

  9. Roofing Companies Arkansas

    Hello,
    This topic is very helpful for write blog. so i hope everyone will help me.

  10. Commercial Roofing Oklahoma

    Hiii,
    Thank your very much brother for these beautiful words…. it really motivates me a lot to make more content like this.Thank u…

  11. Sara Woolley

    Would love to read it.

  12. Karen Terry

    Sounds like an interesting read.

  13. downeaster

    I have read some very good reviews of this book

  14. Debi K

    There is so much truth to the statement that a false fact or impossible plot point drive readers away from books that is often laden with both. I’ll take a false or tweaked fact over an implausible plot point. On the other hand, I applaud and enjoy an author that can sell me a snow cone in a snowstorm.

  15. Jennifer Drake

    This looks like a must read . Thank you for the opportunity

  16. Kimberly

    Goodreads reviews for this book are wonderful. It is one I am adding to my TBR list.

  17. Karishma S

    Love the excerpt. Murders within family are so twisted and keep you on the edge till the end. Would love to read and review this beast.

  18. Marissa Yip-Young

    Informative read.

  19. curlyblu918

    This sounds like it would be a really good read.

  20. Shirley Evans

    Wow…looks to be so good!

  21. Renee Nash

    This sounds like an excellent book! Good luck all!

  22. cjyap1

    The descriptions grabs me, and I’d love a chance to read it.

  23. Susan T.

    I’ve never thought too much about the importance of authenticity of the characters in a story but I definitely have rolled my eyes at things I know would never happen. It’s true that nothing breaks me out of a story faster than some ridiculous detail!

  24. amy mara

    sounds good

  25. Gail Gallant

    I love suspense thrillers. I’d be delighted to win this. Thank you for the opportunity.

  26. Stephanie L Nelson

    This sounds fantastic!

  27. Mary Kearney

    The book sounds good. New author for me

  28. Karl Stenger

    I have heard good things about this book. I would love to read it.

  29. Michelle Willms

    As a former journalist, I understand how important research is to any story. I get completely frustrated by lazy story-telling. Thank you for a wonderful article. I look forward to reading your book, and truly appreciate this opportunity to win a copy.

  30. lasvegasnv

    sounds suspenseful

  31. Kim Naumann

    Sounds like a great read!

  32. Michael Carter

    Great!
    Yes, please enter me in this sweepstakes.
    Thanks —

  33. Tia

    I have heard good things. I am looking forward to reading this!

  34. Darcia

    I’ve heard great things about this book. Looking forward to reading it!

  35. Lori P

    Enjoyed all six Ws, and the sixth (‘what if’) suggests the perfect attitude for arriving upon the scene above.

  36. Rebecca Joy Mensinga

    I definitely want to read this one. It sounds exciting!

  37. Robin Weatherington

    Can’t wait.

  38. carloshmarlo

    This sounds like an excellent story. Thanks for the chance to win a copy!

  39. jennifer cecil

    Looks like a really good book and would love to read it.

  40. Kelley Blair

    My kind of book, thank you kindly.

  41. paul klumbach

    they all did it

  42. Karey L. Newton

    The excerpt I just read wants me to continue reading more. Very intriguing.

  43. Michelle

    I’m really excited about this book!

  44. Kelly Rodriguez

    Sounds interesting.

  45. Lori Byrd

    Sounds like a really great read.

  46. Desmond Warzel

    Count me in, please!

  47. KathyNV

    Loved the book review of “Death in the Family”! At first it sounds so Agatha Christie….isolated private Tern Island, a fierce storm, a house full of guests, a missing son and a bed covered in blood. But then it turns into a Michael Connelly police procedural with one of the investigators being a former NYPD detective abducted by a serial killer who is still at large. Shana is feisty, take charge and doubts her skills. But when she asks for everyones “electronic devices” the gloves are off! The plot sounds wonderful and the characters if they are anywhere as fascinating as Shana should be the gateway to a wonderful mystery! Please enter me in your contest to win a copy of “Death in the Family”. Thank You!

  48. Sally Schmidt

    Interesting post, with a lot of good points. And a book I would like to read. Thanks for the giveaway.

  49. Amanda

    Very interesting! The books sounds like a good read!

  50. SeattleReader

    Totally agree with this post. Truth in fiction is so important, both the kind of truth that comes from getting the details right and also conveying emotional truth, so that the novel resonates with the reader long after the final page is read.
    Thanks for the chance to win – this sounds like my favorite kind of mystery!

  51. IRENE HENDERSON

    Love murder mysteries where people are stuck, like in a snowstorm, hurricane, or on an island during a terrible storm!

  52. martin bodnar

    Thanks for the chance to win!!

  53. susan beamon

    Haven’t read one of these remote, family and a few others, murder mysteries since Ellery Queen.

  54. LeMinou

    Sounds fascinating. On my TBR list. Thanks for the chance.

  55. Deb Philippon

    This was a very interesting read. Thank you for the chance to win.

  56. Alice Glover

    Sounds like a great read. i would love to win.

  57. beth shepherd

    This looks like a great read! Thank you for the chance!

  58. Beth Harms

    Thanks for a chance for an early copy!!

  59. Phyllis McGuire

    Exciting! Would love to win this book!

  60. sue weatherbee

    This sounds like a great read! Thanks for a chance at winning it!

  61. joel timmons

    Best. Site. For. Must. Read. Thrillers

  62. Jamie Gillespie

    I love thrillers and this one looks really good. Would love to read!

  63. Roofing Construction Company

    Hello,
    This topic is very helpful for write blog. so i hope everyone will help me.

  64. Christine Smiga

    This sounds really interesting! Thanks for the giveaway.

  65. ckd518

    This sounds very intriguing. Thanks!

  66. Peg Nittskoff

    I’d be interested in this for our book club–Love thriller mysteries

  67. Elaine Harper

    This is one of my favorite genres – I haunt the podcasts for similar. This sounds wonderful!

  68. Debra Patton

    I’m always interested in these types of stories. Who can resist a book that you don’t want to put down?!

  69. Teresa Warner

    My kind of read!

  70. Debra Pruss

    This sounds like a fabulous book that will keep me on the edge of my seat.

  71. Jill Carpenter

    Just the book I need to finish out recuperating from shoulder surgery.

  72. Tyler

    I love crime fiction books and I look forward to this one!

  73. Danielle

    Looks amazing!!! Id love to read this!! 💓

  74. Janet Gould

    great article

  75. Christine White

    Looks like. A thriller! Love the cover!

  76. Christine White

    Looks like a thriller! Love the cover Too!

  77. Susan Morris

    I agree that a reader is thrown off by false facts. They are a distraction. I also like the concept of the 6th “W”, the “What if?”

  78. Linda Kish

    I love a good mystery. They are always so exciting.

  79. Daniel Weber

    Can’t wait to read.

  80. Marisa Young

    Interesting article. Book should be a great read.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *