Wednesday, February 23, 2011

DIAGNOSTIC: Why I Love The Procedural Crime Genre

This may come as a surprise to some of you, since I read fantasy novels and am even writing a few, but I have a lot of love for the crime genre. Ed McBain of the 87th Precinct series is my favourite author and I read his novels over and over without feeling bored - even though a lot of them are quite short.

So what is it about the style of writing in the Crime Genre that makes it awesome?

Sparkling dialogue: Perhaps it's because of how important dialogue is so important in revealing clues, but generally, the dialogue in crime novels are often very individualised to the speaker. The sense of rhythm differs, the slang differs, the sense of perspective differs, and the core of the characters differs which means you can get some very interesting twists and turns in the dialogue that hold the reader's attention. There are often several minor characters that have a few pages of dialogue to explain certain situations and these minor characters are often as well-drawn as the primary protagonists. This means that I pay a lot more attention when they're speaking because by anaylsing the words a) I sate my voyeuristic need to understand where other people are coming from, and b) you never quite know what will happen next.

Quirky characters: I find this especially in procedural crime novels, perhaps to provide contrast against the rather sensible detectives, but it's also true of other sub-genres as well. The characters are often quirky in new and amusing ways. Personally, I think this is because really good procedural crime novelists do a lot of research and listen to a lot of anecdotes. They notice the strange reactions people have sometimes and they port some of that into their books. It's harder in speculative fiction because the only 'anecdotes' you have for people's behavior in other worlds is other people's works and importing them only makes your work more derivative. The exception to this are fantasy and science fiction novels set in the modern world with a few twists. Perhaps it would help if speculative fiction authors spent more time asking people about random anecdotes about other people and then seeing if those reactions could work in lands dramatically different from our own.

Precision in description: Perhaps again related to the copious amount of research a crime novelist has to do but they often are very precise with their details. They use the correct titles of rooms, the right names for equipment, and at every step try to pack the most information into the fewest words. This may be more of a personal preference as I'm sure a lot of readers enjoy the more leisurely and diffuse descriptions that can often be found in other genres but I certainly enjoy a certain crispness to my descriptions.

What do you like about the crime genre?

Disclaimer: Writers in other genres have achieved all of the above and more. These are simply positive points that I have more often found in the crime genre.


  1. I write romantic suspense....and I am a rabid fan of the Prey novels by John Sandford for all the reasons that you state. Love them...crime novels are my favorite.

  2. I'm not really familiar with the romantic suspense genre. I should pick up a novel or two and take a look. Also, is it just me or is the name 'Prey' a really interesting one for a Crime Novel? It'd make for a good fantasy title, too. Less glamorous, more anxiety-arousing. Certainly raises a few questions.