Wednesday, May 28, 2008

How to Write a Crime Serial

Second in series of our “How to write a…” posts, we bring you a tutorial on how to write a crime serial. And by “crime serial”, we mean a serial with crime-fighters, and not criminals as protagonists (Elementary, my dear friend).

Now, before starting to write a crime serial, you need to decide what genre you want to visit: Crime/Action or Crime/Comedy (dark humour and unintentional jokes not included). The difference between these two is that the “serious” ones would include a government organization/team, while the “lighter” ones will normally feature an independent “consultant”, with either tense or friendly (sometimes both, with different members of course) relationship with the authority. Of course, given that there can only be co many crime-fighting organizations, you can place protagonist in some auxiliary field (clinical pathologist, psychologist etc.)

Next, if you are going for a government organization, you need a catchy name. After all, EIA1. So, the best way to approach this would be to think of a nice sounding acronym, and then create the name of organization based on that. The name should have some form of C-word in it, or failing that, words like “Special”, “Department”, “Squad2. Oh, one thing before we go on. Most of the three-letter combinations being already in use by now, you will need a four letter acronym.

Of course, your main protagonist needs a crime he wants to solve, but cannot. It can be against his near and dear ones (or at least, or against himself). This gives you plot points for the season finale, and maybe the “driving force” for your protagonist.

Now that you have all the basic things in place, you can go ahead and write the episode. (I know, I know. Too much prep. for a 40 min episode. But you need all this if you want to be back for a second season)

First you will need to decide what kind of crime you want in the episode: Theft or Murder. Theft can be information theft (and espionage), while murder always follows rape. Of course, you can combine these two crimes together, too.

Next thing, how many dead bodies you want to show? The established standard is 1-2 murders in "screen" time. If your props department goes crazy and creates more dead bodies, you will need a serial killer, and the “extra” bodies are previous murder victims.

If there is a person your protagonist (or one of the protagonists) can get attracted to, make sure that the person is either the criminal for the episode, or one of the victims. The only way for the character to avoid either of these fates is to make sure the actor can come back for next (at least a few) episodes.

Romantic attachments between two characters from same team are strictly for second part of last season. A little flirting and "resultant" tension can be introduced any time.

Also, the "team" will lose at least one member in one of the episodes. If the episode is not a season finale, the death will be a faked one, and the person will be back one or two episodes later. A death in season finale is usually permanant, and you will need a replacement for that member from next season.

And finally, here are some ideas for your stories which have stood the test of time:

  • The "team" is exposed to a deadly contagion and has to solve the case before one of them dies or they all can get out of quarantine.

  • The protagonist is (almost literally) "caught red-handed". The only thing is that, she3 is innocent, but cannot prove it because of stress-induced amnesia.

  • The protagonist wakes up in a container buried underground4, along with another person. They have to solve the case before the air runs out.

  • An obsessive "fan" develops (what may or may not turn out to be) a "fatal attraction" for the protagonist.

  • Serial killers are always a good bet, since they can come back for multiple episodes till they finally get shot. Then again, you have copy-cat killers and "apprentices" carrying on the legacy.

So, ready with your deerstalker cap, magnifying glass and pipe? May the "little grey cells" be with you!

- The Great Eagle Has Spoken

P.S. The first chapter in the series: "Anatomy of a Spy Novel".

1. Everything's in Acronym
2. You can sneak in "Wing" if nothing else is working.
3. It is usually a "she".
4. I think there is a redundant word in there, but I am not so sure.