Start Writing Crime Fiction with Nicola Upson
From the creators of the Noirwich Crime Writing Festival
Special offer: All creative writing online courses include a free 12-week digital subscription to Granta Magazine.
Crime fiction is the biggest-selling genre in the UK and this course will help you to incorporate its building blocks into your own writing. You will explore the genre’s themes and appeal, looking at creating credible worlds and characters, developing and structuring story and building page-turning, tension-filled scenes.
On this course, you will:
- Explore what crime fiction consists of and why it is so popular
- Build a bank of story ideas
- Understand what sub-genre of crime fiction interests you, and why
- Explore the structure of crime fiction and how to build a plot
- Learn the building blocks of good writing.
- Learn how to create believable characters
- Learn how to build stories using details
- Develop an understanding of point of view
- Explore the importance of setting
- Learn about creating suspense
Designed by the University of East Anglia and the National Centre for Writing.
The course is divided into six modules. Each module consists of reading and commenting on a short story, exploring an area of crime fiction theory, three short exercises to develop a craft aspect of writing crime fiction and a longer assignment. The assignments develop from the writing exercises and build cumulatively to help you develop a finished project.
The modules are posted fortnightly. Every two weeks you will submit an assignment to your tutor, who will then respond with constructive feedback and advice.
Module One – The Starting Point
What is the appeal of crime fiction? We look at some thoughts on this and develop our own point of view in group discussion. On the craft side, we look at generating material by using news stories, developing a writer’s magpie instinct, and starting to use a notebook.
Assignment One: Generating story ideas
Module Two – The Elements of the Crime Story
Through reading and discussion, we will identify the important elements of crime fiction. Through exercises, we will start to learn how to use them to approach story structure.
Assignment Two: A suspense scene
Module Three – Endearing Monsters
We investigate the role of character in crime fiction and the thorny issues around likeable/identifiable characters. The exercises here will be about developing living, breathing characters.
Assignment Three: From character to plot
Module Four – Genre and Detail
We look at the various sub-genres of crime fiction, and their identifying characteristics and how these translate into story detail. The exercises in this class are about finding the devil in the detail – from research to sensory detail, to the differences between telling and showing
Assignment Four: A shown sequence
Week Five – Crime Story Structure
This module focuses on the plot dynamics of crime fiction. We look at plotting methods and the whole plotter/pantser issue. The practical exercises here are about nailing one of the stories you have been developing and making a wide range of structural decisions to do with plot, point of view, voice and tense. You will develop a short outline and an elevator pitch for your story.
Assignment Five: A first draft, to be posted to the forum for peer feedback
Module Six – Ethics and Edits
In the theory part of this module, we will be looking at some of the ethical issues facing authors of contemporary crime fiction. The practical element is about exploring methods to hone your work and make it better. We will also look at the area of critical assessment.
Assignment Six: Submit a completed story of 1,500-2,000 words and a critical appraisal (300 words) for your final assessment.
About your tutor
Nicola Upson was born in Suffolk and read English at Downing College, Cambridge. She has worked in theatre and as a freelance journalist, and is a regular contributor to a number of radio networks.
Her critically acclaimed crime novels featuring the author and playwright Josephine Tey have been praised as ‘historical crime fiction at its very best’ (Sunday Times) and ‘a masterstroke of literary theft’ (Independent on Sunday). Set in the 1930s, they weave original murder mysteries around a celebration of Tey’s life and work, featuring events which defined those years and bridging the Golden Age and the contemporary. The series debut, An Expert in Murder, was dramatised by BBC Scotland for Radio 4, and praised by PD James as marking ‘the arrival of a new and assured talent’; the latest, Nine Lessons, was a Publisher’s Weekly Best Mystery of 2017 and shortlisted for the 2018 CWA Historical Dagger.
Nicola’s non-fiction works include Mythologies: the Sculpture of Helaine Blumenfeld (Overlook Press). She is the recipient of an Escalator Award from the Arts Council England, and her first standalone novel, Stanley and Elsie, came out earlier this year.
Sorry for the Dead, Nicola’s eighth ‘Josephine Tey’ mystery, will be published by Faber in November. She lives with her partner in Cambridge and Cornwall.