Monday, February 14, 2011

Love and Murder

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne


After a wee bit of drama last week and the flooding of the downstairs of our house, I am finally back to blogging - and I love that I get to blog on Valentine's Day! It's not just because I am a hopeless romantic, it's also because I think writing an emotion such as love is one of the trickiest things to do well.

In crime fiction 'love' can connote a whole range of things from sexual chemistry and romance to justification for murder. To make such a complex emotion believable can be a major challenge. I've lost count of the number of crime novels I've read that were great on action and suspense but a real let down when it came to love. Handled badly, it's an emotion that can be soppy and overwrought or just plain gag-worthy. Handled well and a reader can't turn the pages quickly enough. Love is compelling. Just look at the novel Twilight by Stephenie Meyer - for all it's flaws, it handles the emotional angst and pain of teenage love skillfully and readers have responded accordingly.

One crime author that I believe handles love exceptionally well is Tana French. I have read all three of her books, In the Woods, The Likeness, and Faithful Place. Each, I feel, really handles the facets of love to great effect. In her book Faithful Place, she captures the sweet yearning of young love and the devastation of loss - making the crime in the novel all the more poignant. I think that many mystery and thriller writers could take note of Tana's use of emotion to make their own books richer.
What does she do, that helps propel her evocation of love beyond the banal?

Well, in my mind it is her 'evocation' that is all important. She doesn't simply tell you about the emotions stirring within her characters, she shows you it in every observation and interaction.


So on this Valentine's Day, I thought I would offer just a few tips on writing about 'love' -



  • Make it unique to the characters. Avoid the cliches 'eyes like deep pools' or the stock standard 'hate at first sight' approach. Make the characters emotions uniquely their own. Think of the subtleties involved in falling in and out of love.

  • Be restrained - Crime fiction is not romance fiction and I truly think most mystery readers prefer 'love' to take a back seat to the crime aspects of the story. That being said I think a well-drawn relationship can add depth to a mystery and there's no doubt that love is one of the greatest motivations for crime as well:) Nonetheless, I do think that the standards are different and that emotions can be more heightened in a romance novel than in a mystery or a thriller. It's a fine line between 'heightened' and 'overblown' and I think to be successful in describing 'love', less is often more!

  • Evoke the sense of love- nothing indicates depth of emotion that heightened sensory awareness. I love reading novels that bring these senses to the forefront so the reader starts to suspect a character's emotions from their sensory appreciation of sight, sounds and smell;

  • Have realistic sex scenes. The most amazing sex ever starts to get a bit dull even in the best of books - far more interesting to make the event as realistic as possible (though not many readers probably want to read about truly boring, horrible sex!).

What other tips would you add to the list - which crime novelist do you think handles the emotion of 'love' best?


Oh, and Happy Valentine's Day!

9 comments:

  1. I'm a huge Tana French fan. She really does write emotion so vividly—and not just love, but fear and anticipation, and a whole host of others.

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  2. Personally, I see no point in spending much time on a sex scene. It is sufficient to say that the characters had sex and to move on. There is more value in showing the reactions of other characters to the fact that they are aware of the these characters are having sex. But as in life, sex is best left behind closed doors.

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  3. Jordan -she is a really great writer isn't she?! Timothy, I agree - I fInd some writers make so much of the sex scene it's actually off-putting. It's the relationship between the characters that I want to see and that will get me emotionally invested in the story.

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  4. Glad to hear you're recovering from the moistening Clare.

    As far as love, I think a realistic portrayal can be based on, like you said, evoking the sense of it. When I was a kid I knew my parents loved each other because of the way dad came home from work, wrapped his arms around mum and spoke in a smooth voice he reserved only for her. Although he was a man of frequent ill temper, the tenderness that flowed at those moments spoke volumes about the feelings that dared peek our from beneath his crusty shell.

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  5. Clare,
    I gotta tell you I loved the picture. You're really killing of the darlings. Poor dead cupid. I opened this up this morning and laughed every time I thought about it today.
    Hope you had a good Valentine's Day.

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  6. Happy Valentine's Day to you, too, Clare!

    Coming from the romance writer's world, I'm all for the angst and energy sizzling between characters when they're busy doing other things . . . keeps the tension going so well that the sex scene doesn't need so much. The mental foreplay takes care of the reader up to the point where the hero an heroine tear each other's clothes off and close the door in our faces. Yes, indeed. Angst. Sizzle. It works for any genre.

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  7. Kathleen - angst and sizzle are the perfect combination! I am working on a YA project at the moment and boy, do I need both in spades!

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  8. Kathleen - Hear, hear!

    Romance author Jennifer Crusie has explained that she approaches sex scenes just like any other scene. Like any scene, they require conflict, change, and movement in the plot and character arcs. If those things aren't there, the scene isn't pulling its weight. I think she's right.

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  9. There's one particular scene in Faithful Place that is hands down the best rendering of young love I've ever read. I was just reviewing it last week, and quite literally found myself holding my breath while I read it. That's an amazing gift to bequeath to a reader.

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