Creating the perfect crime (on paper) at IU Writers’ Conference

Post by Bethany Nolan of  IU Communications:

My first byline appeared in a college newspaper way back in 1993. Four jobs later, I’m intimately familiar with the rush that accompanies staring at a blank computer screen filled only with a blinking cursor, an unbreakable deadline looming on the horizon.

Nevertheless, I immediately started sweating when novelist and screenplay writer Lou Berney directed us in a quick writing exercise in the IU Writers’ Conference crime class.

My sad attempt at writing a mysterious scene for Berney’s workshop.

Conference organizer Bob Bledsoe had graciously agreed when I asked if I could sit in on a couple of sessions, and now I was wondering what I’d gotten myself into — particularly when Berney asked participants to read their scenes. Out loud. In front of everyone. Gulp.

All terror aside, the sessions I attended were a wonderful experience. Berney was a fun, engaging speaker and his tips were great. I jotted down a few to share:

1) Understand your genre. What is your audience looking for? “We’re looking for clues as writers to solve the mystery of what a good crime novel looks like,” he said.

2) The difference between a mystery and a thriller? While there can be crossover, mystery readers are typically looking back, trying to figure out what happened, why and how. With a thriller, readers are looking ahead, wondering what will happen next.

3) Don’t expect your first draft to be perfect. “It’s not brain surgery,” Berney said. “You don’t have to get it right the first time.”

4) Both genres are rife with stereotypical characters — also known as the divorced homicide detective with a drinking problem — but don’t be afraid of such stereotypes. Instead, play with them to create a totally unique character.

I was also impressed by the crowd who attended the 72nd annual conference. More than 40 writers and aspiring writers of all ages and backgrounds were present at the two sessions I attended. They sought advice from Berney, gently critiqued their fellow writers’ work and, most of all, had fun doing it.


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