Guest Post: The Horror in Crime Fiction

It is my pleasure to introduce my first guest author of the year, Sharon A Crawford to my blog. She has a very interesting post to share with you all today, discussing horror, and how it can be used in crime fiction.

Don’t forget to check out her blog and pay her some love via the links below.

The Horror in Crime Fiction

By Sharon A. Crawford

Crime fiction needs to have horror. Not necessarily monsters or chain-saw murders. However, if you are going to write crime fiction, whether mystery, thriller, suspense or all three, you have to horrify your readers.

It can be subtle as in cozies or right out front. The rule of thumb for mysteries is a dead body must show up somehow and somewhere in the first 50 pages. That’s what the editor at my publisher’s told me when I emailed the “final” copy of my current novel Beyond Blood. (Blue Denim Press, fall 2014). My first murder was way after page 50. So I rewrote and had two murders in the first 50. One was foreshadowing in the Prologue and the other one (closer to page 50) was the discovery of the dead body of a little boy.

And therein also lies another horror – the murder of children. That is horrifying even to police in real life. I had to decide how graphic to write it. Because there is a series of child kidnappings and murders, I decided to do it in different ways – this also would eliminate repetition in the narration. So, for the body of the first little boy found by police I used a radio newscast which my main characters fraternal twin PIs Dana Bowman and Bast Overture heard. Also present was Dana’s six-year-old son, David, so I had Dana shut the radio off right away. This scenario also foreshadowed David’s kidnapping a few chapters later.

Later, Dana identified the body of a little boy washed ashore and focused on her horror as she goes up to the covered body, envisions it is her son, hides her feelings of horror and trepidation by trying to do her usual wise-cracking with Detective Sergeant Fielding and Dr. Farley, the coroner. I use some dialogue from these three characters and Dana’s inner thoughts as she approaches the body. Here is some of that.

“Wait.” Fielding held up a hand towards Dr. Farley and turned to me. “Are you sure D … uh, Ms. Bowman, you want to see it?”

“It could be David. Couldn’t it Dr. Farley?”

“It’s the body of a male child, age six or seven.”

I sucked in air. “I have to look.” Fielding reached for my arm. “Alone. Okay, you can both come along.”

The three of us moved in silence. Those damned waves started thrashing around inside my whole body. Please God, not like this. When we were up against the dark mound, Dr. Farley pointed a flashlight at it, and it became a person, a child hidden under a blanket. Fielding crouched and removed the blanket.

“But he’s naked.” I screamed, digging fingernails into my scalp and continuing on like an echo.

“Easy, Dana,” Fielding said.

The waves continued to whip around inside, forcing me to wobble. Instinctively I grabbed Fielding’s arm, took a deep breath and forced myself to look down. After a few more breaths, I dug fingernails into Fielding’s arm as my eyes moved over the body. A fish hook was caught in the nose. The head was almost ripped off the neck and a few fish nips appeared on the left cheek and right arm. But it was the eyes—staring stark scared up at me as if pleading for his life. Hazel eyes. Hair knotted, wet and dirty showed only traces of red. I removed my hand from Fielding’s arm, crouched down and reached over to close the eyes, then drew back. (Beyond Blood, Copyright 2014, Sharon A. Crawford)

Dana then runs off, falling down in the sand as she faints.

Beyond Blood also has a serial killer in it so some of the story is told from his point of view. However, I only briefly describe one scene of him committing murder – and the aftermath for him when he continually showers to remove the blood long after shower number one did so.

Killing animals in a mystery novel is somewhat controversial because of animal rights. Some mystery novelists include murder of the family dog. If that is crucial to your plot, then do it – but show the afterwards, not the murder. Beyond Blood has no domestic animal killings but some wild animals are killed as part of the plot.

With children and animals, the perpetrators have to get caught.

That is my outcome for any murders, whoever the victim. Murder is a heinous crime and making sure the guilty parties get punished some way puts the horror in perspective. I’m sure you have read novels where this doesn’t happen. It leaves more than a bad taste in your mouth; it makes you feel sick.

These are just a few examples of putting the horror in crime fiction. You take it from all angles – the crime, the motive, the perpetrator, the victim, victim’s friends and family, investigators (often the latter two overlap). Think feelings, motives, character and what works with your plot. Don’t be graphic just for the sake of being graphic (unless you are writing a horror novel – the rules change…and I’ll leave that one to Alex Laybourne to discuss).

Just remember – horror in fiction doesn’t have to resemble the TV series Criminal Minds. At the same time, you are using words, not visual (unless a graphic novel), so you need to get the picture in the reader’s mind.

And sometimes being subtle and leaving the scene to the reader’s imagination can work better.

Beyond Blood_Final Ebook

Sharon A. Crawford Bio.

Sharon A. Crawford, a former journalist, is a freelance book editor, writing instructor/tutor and author of the Beyond mystery series. She is Writer-in-Residence for Canadian Authors Association Toronto, a member of Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters in Crime Toronto, Professional Writers Association of Canada, and runs the East End Writers’ Group.


Author blog

Amazon profile


Blue Denim Press

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s