Writing True Crime: The Author’s Responsibility

It is crucial to remember whose story you are telling and be respectful to them.

As the True Crime genre goes through its heyday, it’s important for authors in the genre to understand their duties as writers.

Today, I’ll narrow that focus to one topic: responsibility to the story.

A true crime story is inherently the story of the victim or victims. The victim is, in most cases, deceased. They are not around to tell their story, and that is what the author’s job is – to tell the story of the victim.

And, in my opinion, keeping that basic tenet in mind as you write, you should be in great shape.

The problem with TC as a genre is that it toes the line of exploitation. A book can very easily move from an historic recounting of a crime to sensationalism and exploitation.

It’s a double-edged sword, a dutch door, if you would.

First, we are drawn to a story because of the various elements of tension in it. Tension makes a good story. So, the story you choose must be interesting to readers, or you’re not going to get the readership you seek.

But you must let the story be what drives your work and not an exploitation of a crime.

We are not trying to create tension. We are trying to bring already existing tensions to the surface. Show the reader what was there, what happened, and structure it in a compelling way.

However, if the story itself isn’t compelling, then perhaps that story isn’t the best one for the genre. If the story isn’t enough, we cannot use writerly elements to create that tension.

That isn’t fair to the story, the reader, or the victim.

I’m not going to get into much more detail on the specific elements, but keeping your goal in mind is paramount to being respectful when telling these stories.

Remember, this isn’t your story. This is someone else’s story. So you must keep them and their well-being in mind when working through a manuscript.

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