RULE

Ann Rule

Last month, I had the opportunity to take on a true crime book, but I turned it down. It wasn’t an easy choice. It was an interesting cold case, but I felt that I wasn’t ready for the project at this time. It would have required travel that I didn’t want to do, and time that I just couldn’t commit, at least not if I wanted to finish the book in less than a decade.

 

While I was considering the project, I also studied how to do true crime books. I have covered criminal cases when I was a newspaper reporter and even done investigative pieces. I’ve read some true crime books as well, but I wasn’t sure what goes into writing one. For instance, should you have your manuscript vetted by a lawyer? If so, that would have made it very different from other types of writing.

I found an interesting article that had some good tips from the “Queen of True Crime” Ann Rule. If anyone knows how to write a true crime book, it’s her. She is the author of books like Small Sacrifices and Heart Full of Lies. Her first book, The Stranger Beside Me, was about her co-worker, serial killer Ted Bundy. 138454

While she has great advice for being a writer, in general, here are her tips for being a true crime writer.

  1. You can usually get a press pass, but there’s often a deluge of writers trying to obtain one. Rule calls the prosecutor’s assistant.
  2. Study the witnesses, watch the jury, and soak up the entire experience. (I used to try and take notes during trials, but I finally started recording them so I could do just this. If a writers soaks in the experience, it helps in setting the mood and scene when you write.)
  3. Try to obtain the court documents from the court reporter or the prosecutor, or purchase them.
  4. Observe the other reporters in the room, and analyze what they’re doing.
  5. If you’re sitting out in the hall with potential witnesses, don’t ask them about anything. You can comment on the weather or the courtroom benches being hard, but “Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth pretty shut.” (She says this to keep you from getting in trouble with the judicial system, but it also follows the old adage, “If you’re talking, you aren’t listening.” You never know what you might hear if you are quiet and sitting in the right place.)
  6. Don’t take newspapers into the courtroom.
  7. Know what you’re getting yourself into. “You don’t want to start a nonfiction unless you’re really in love with it, and usually you want a go-ahead from an editor.” (This was one of my hesitations with the true crime project I was presented. I was interested in it, but I wasn’t obsessed by it. Because of that, I was willing to let other things get in the way of me writing the project.)
  8. Absorb detail. “When I’m writing a true-crime book I want the reader to walk along with me.” Rule describes the temperature, how the air feels—“I think it’s very important to set the scene.” As far as the writing, you can novelize, but keep all of your facts straight.
  9. Don’t use the real name of a rape or sexual crime victim in your writing. (Though Rule has written about a few who have asked to have their names included.) As Rule said of her subjects at large, “I always care about my people. And if I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing.”

x4459True crime is an interesting genre because you might actually have a real-world impact, such as catching a criminal. However, it also has plenty of things that could cause you headaches if you aren’t careful. Maybe one day I’ll find that true crime project that I can’t forget, and when that happens, I’ll take the leap.

Here’s the link to the original article where I found Ann Rule’s tips.

 

 

You might also enjoy these posts

Advertisements