There are two ways to get good at something. You can study it and do it, or you can do it and do it. What am I talking about? In this ‘case’, learning how to create a piece of crime fiction (a crime scene investigation) by exploring crime scenes. Virtually, that is
First up, let’s see where we’re headed. This is the Outcome we want you, our beloved student, to tackle.
Boring writing is a crime!
This is our initial step…warming up the brain with linguistic possibilities. Writing depends on an exciting lexicon…that’s a fancy word for vocabulary…which is a fancy word for ‘the words you know’.
So…Task 1…listen carefully to the Monty Python sketch below. Pay particular attention to John Cleese (the tall one) and count how many different terms he uses in place of ‘dead’ when referring to his ‘dead parrot’.
How many did you get? I picked up 16 in all. Here they are…
Is no more
Ceased to be
Gone to meet its maker
A late parrot
Bereft of life
Rests in peace
Pushing up the daisies
Run down the curtain
Joined the Choir Invisible
Right, now that we’ve armed you with a sense of verbal fecundity (that there are whole orchards of words out there waiting to be picked and used by your wise self), and an online thesaurus, we can extend their vocabulary a bit further with some gory, hands-on investigative experience.
Write what you know!
Know anything about Forensic Science? No? In Task 2 our student’s about to get a practical crash course. Here’s a quick Prezi to fill you in on what I mean. Now, there’s a Quiz tacked on to the end of that Prezi. Don’t worry about that at this stage. We’ll come back to it.
So now its time for Task 3…
Get into your characters’ heads!
Oh…and one more way to get inside your main characters’ head. Learn what makes people tick. There’s more to your detective than steel gazes and tan overcoats. Your detective is a ‘real’ person with history, hobbies and a home. Here’s where I recommend playing MeTycoon (a game I also use in the Johnny Bunko Career Guidance unit).
MeTycoon is a great way to get your head around the different elements of life (work/hobbies/homes) that make a person who they are! Try this out. Grow your Detective in MeTycoon, and see what they have to do to become a successful policeman/woman. Good luck!
So…what’s left? The writing bit? Not quite Task 4.
Accuracy…an important skill for writers and hitmen.
The best ideas and most engaging and inspiring words in the world…none of it will save your story from the rubbish bin if your punctuation and grammar stinks like a week-old cadaver. Sorry about that…a little too deep in the crime zone here
What are we going to do to hone your linguistic accuracy? Make you hit the grammar books and punctuation worksheets? Negative…you know that’s not how we roll here. We’re going to play some games, of course!
BBC’s Skillwise offers a range of games designed to help you to practice your punctuation and grammar skills…in relative comfort. Be warned though, there are a LOT of games here, and some are more ‘learny’ than others. Here are a few I’ve tried out and found pretty useful.
My challenge with the above games? Clock them! Keep practicing the skills until you’ve mastered the HARD levels on a few of these games. Dabbling won’t help you. Focus and a bit of ‘grinding’ will!
Right then…enough playing about. Let’s get some writing done.
Task 5 – Write a Crime Scene
Just write it. First drafts are meant to be bad!
You have your powered-up crime lexicon, your forensics training, you’ve done their rotation as a crime scene investigator, and you’ve peppered the targets in the grammar and punctuation shooting gallery. Now it’s time to tell your story…right from where your investigator self (1st or 3rd person…your choice) rocks up to the murder scene and starts the investigation.
“Swan picked the scene apart with his eyes, like a diner dismantling and consuming a favourite chicken dinner. He loved crime almost as much as he hated the criminals who committed it. His hair was gone, along with his innocence. His smog-grey eyes had seen so much evil they’d taken on a squint, as if to block out the worst of it…”
We’ll get you into it in a minute. First, here’s a little more inspiration to show how a Detective observes the fine details of a scene and pieces together how and why a crime has been committed.
Seem complicated? It’s simpler than it looks. When it comes to creating their scene, as long as your student answers these questions they should be fine!
Where is the scene of the crime?
Who is the victim? (and how do we know?)
How did the victim die? (and how do we know?)
What clues has the murderer left behind?
What other evidence is there?
Why was the victim murdered? (and how do we know?)
When did the victim die? (and how do we know?)
Who is the murderer? (they’re not going to tell us in this scene…but the detective should end the scene with a theory at least)
Alternatively, you can simply download, print and fill out this handy Write a Murder Mystery Template!
So…that’s all you need for now. Put those fingertips to the keyboard, or that pen to paper, and get writing until…
…your first draft is in the bag! Now for the 6th and penultimate task!
Write your first draft with the door closed, your SECOND DRAFT with the door open!
I think Stephen King said that. And he means that you should write that first attempt on your own…NO feedback along the way. But now that it’s done, show your work to a fellow writer friend. Should be a bit short on literate companions, virtual ones can be sourced
Become a Teen Writer Club, one of many online writers groups out there for teens. It’s where I started, with an online writers group. Can’t rate them highly enough! For more on teens sending their writing out into the ether, have a read of this article by Elizabeth Whilhelm. Far more comprehensive than I have time to be here.
Get some feedback and give your crime story a rewrite. You don’t have to incorporate everything that your critics have suggested (that’s a path to creative disaster), only what your sure will work.
Rewrite, polish and proof, and then…
…pass it on to your teacher or mentor for the 7th and final task. Assessment!
And that’s that. We’re done and dusted. Whether it’s an Achieved, Merit or Excellence, at the end of the day you’ve completed the process. That’s worth celebrating all by itself.
Well done, Rookie Crime Writer. Case Closed!