True crime is something I list that inspires my PNR and UF writing. For those not in the know, true crime are non-fiction accounts of genuine crimes, whether in book form, TV shows like Dateline or even podcasts like True Crime Garage.
But what does true crime have to do with paranormal romance? The horror of genuine murder cases are almost a total one-eighty from the tingly, tip-of-your-toes joy of that first vampire kiss, right?
Short answer, villains.
If you’re not a particularly evil person, you need to look outside yourself to get the motivations, the causes, and the effects of terrible people. Watching movies, TV shows, or even reading other books is a start, but if that’s all you do, the only thing you’ll get your usual TV Tropes run of villain archetypes: the Dark Lord, the Wicked Stepmother, the generic Hollywood slasher. The bulk of creative writing books that discuss villains and the motivations rarely go beyond that. They treat them like just another character: find their conflict, their motivation, their defining childhood incident.
That’s all fine and well, but that’s like writing a story about Highlanders by only reading other Highlander books instead of delving into Scottish folklore and history. It will be flat and full of clichés. Your villains will emerge generic and lack that special pizzazz. To dig deeper, to create fresher, more authentic, and more frightening bad guys and gals, you need to get up close and personal with the source material.
It pays to look into criminal profiling, forensic psychology, and dangerous personalities, particularly the spectrum-B disorders and above all psychopathy. Books like The Sociopath Next Door or Danger Personalities are an excellent resource, but they are some heavy lifting and can take some work to translate into fiction.
But for getting the dramatic impact of what evil people do, the wreckage they leave behind, and the swathe of destruction their actions cause across the lives of victims and their families, not to say the impact on the criminal justice and mental health systems, true crime is a great resource. The only way it could get rawer and more direct is if you as a writer have an actual background in law enforcement, criminal justice, forensic psychology, or other firsthand experience with evil. Fortunately, I do not.
I watch some true crime television. The complete run of Forensic Files is available legally on YouTube and that’s an exceptional show, although forensic science has advanced even further since those shows first aired. But a lot of times, we don’t want our eyes passively glued to a screen. Podcasts are super convenient and for the most part, they are free. They have become my go-to for true crime.
Since I listen to a ton of these, I will from time to time to do a review round-up here on this blog. The best shows will be highlighted, along with standout episodes of particularly moving or interesting cases. I prefer the shows that treat the victims with respect, do not dwell on the gory details or glorify serial killers, and work harder at finding interesting cases that haven’t already been the subject of dozens of TV shows, books, and podcasts already.
While I realize true crime this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, hopefully some readers may find it of interest.
It’s true that in my vampire novels, there’s not a lot of crime going on and the romance and paranormal elements tend to outshine it. Still, it forms an important subplot in a couple of the stories, particularly Night is Magic, and with my new urban fantasy series coming out next year, it will become a major focus.
Until next time, stay safe!