Is Crime Fiction Mainly Written/Read by People Who Don't Experience Crime?

Let me throw out a generalization I've had kicking around my head this week.


If throughout your life you experience crime (say you're from a bad neighborhood), you likely will not be interested in watching shows or reading books about crime.


If throughout your life you do not experience crime (say you're from a good neighborhood), you likely will be interested in watching shows or reading books about crime.


This doesn't follow a logical pattern, since people should write/read what they know. But I'll go out on a limb and say most CrimeSpace members (in general) come from middle-class backgrounds and did not live the lives of the characters in crime fiction.


Whereas if you grew up mountain climbing, you're likely to be interested in writing/reading about mountain climbing. Or if you grew up (like me) doing lots of things outdoors, you'd be interested in writing/reading about the outdoors (which I am, both writing and reading).


What's going on here? I think we all know why people enjoy crime fiction: it safely allows exploration of the darker side of life. But does this fantasizing only apply to those who did not experience much criminal activity throughout their lives?


My thought is yes. If you grow up with crime, you don't need to seek out a medium to safely explore the darker side of life. You already lived it.


What do you think?

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Probably true. War is a similar case. The recent biography of J.D. Salinger by Kenneth Slawenski points out that Salinger probably had more harrowing combat experience than any other American author, but it's hard to find a trace of it in his fiction. He couldn't or wouldn't write about it.

I have experienced a burglary and a car theft, but never a violent crime against the person. I sometimes worry about writing too glibly about murder. The only to avoid that mistake, I believe, is to remind myself over and over that murder is a hideous waste, with consequences that can reverberate for many years.

, but it's hard to find a trace of it in his fiction. He couldn't or wouldn't write about it.


Actually, he did write about it, indirectly, in one of his short stories, "For Esme, With Love and Squalor. " It's a beautiful and very moving story.



Let's not confuse non-fiction and fiction.  In fiction, we use our imagination and our empathy for others. The idea that you should only write about what you know personally is just wrong.

I guess I'd be the exception, then. :)  I've never been a victim of crime (or a perp, as far as you can prove) but in my job as a felony prosecutor I see crime every day.  And trust me, none of it is glamorous, fun, or intriguing as the stuff we read and write. 

Well, there is this one case... ;)

I think being subjected to it daily affects my TV watching more than my writing (in terms of putting me off).  My wife loves Criminal Minds but I have to be in the right mood to enjoy it. 

In my opinion, crime fiction readers come from all walks of life and all living environments. On a personal note, after 26 years in law enforcement I still enjoy reading crime fiction. Related to I.J.'s comment, I read for entertainment and walking with other authors in their own made-up worlds. I believe other crime-fiction readers, from crime-ridden to crime-free neighborhoods,  seemed to be drawn to this genre for similar reasons. They come to be entertained, to meet interesting characters, and to have their clue-seeking minds pushed to the limits.
For me, it's characters.  I'm fascinated by the way people deal with crime.  I'm less interested in the puzzle aspect, though I will grant that it's an organizational issue or plot issue.

I'm with IJ on this. It's the characters and how things work out between them. This is why I'm drawn to writers such as Elmore Leonard, John McFetridge, Charlie Stella, and Richard Price. The crime may not get solved--hell, the book probably isn't about solving the crime at all. It's about what happens. That's why I read. To see what happens.

Books that rely too much on the puzzle aspects have nothing to fall back on if the reader is disappointed with the puzzle.

Some writers report crime. Others experience it vicariously and write it.


A good writer does not have to be shot to appreciate a protag being shot, or be mugged to write about a muggee, or be a cop to write police procedural, but he damn well better do his homework.


Jack Bludis

Amen to that.  In any case, apart from research into the less familiar subjects in a novel, writers need to be widely read in gneral, and some life experience doesn't hurt either.  Beyond these basics, imagination is king.

Lots of ex-cops and ex-prosecutors write crime novels. They write what they know. Then there's Ellroy, whose mother was murdered when he was young. I'm thinking his initial start at writing fiction was to work through some psychological issues.

I have had four years experience working for the British probation Service and have also worked for short periods in prisons.


The reality of crime is no different from the fiction of crime in as much as it invokes such a wide range of responses, opinion and extreme human emotion.


I find the majority of fictionalised accounts of prison settings to be laughably naive.

Here's my two cents.  I have a friend who's a detective on a police force in a small town.  He writes speculative fiction and has no interest in writing or reading crime fiction.  He says it's boring, because that's what he does every day.  I've spent my whole life teaching horseback riding lessons and working with horses.  I spoke to an agent who asked me why I don't write crime fiction with horses (like Rita Mae Brown, for instance.)  I don't want to write about horses (and other than Dick Francis, I don't read that much horsey stuff either.)  It's boring.  It's what I do every day.  So I know this doesn't quite answer your question, but it might explain a little. 


As far as people growing up in a crime-infested neighborhood, they're not likely to have gotten the education that would enable them to be good writers, crime or otherwise.  Or maybe they're just bored with it.  Then there's "Wiseguy" that was made into "Goodfellas."  But that was more autobiography than fiction. 


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