Author Mahendra Jakhar gives out tips on the ‘art’ and ‘planning’ of a murder
How to write a murder mystery? Let, Bollywood screenwriter and author Mahendra Jakhar help you become a crime writer.books Updated: Jun 08, 2017 13:23 IST
The art of murder writing is both an art and a craft. It’s like you throw various coloured beads on the floor and then you pick each one carefully, choosing the right colour for the right place and slowly and painstakingly put them into a thread to create a beautiful artwork. The thread should never break that’s the main story and the main plot while you can have sub-plots and varied characters with their own stories.
Well, our country never had a tradition of crime writing. We had a few characters like Byomkesh Bakshi which is nothing but a desi version of Sherlock Holmes. Yes, there have been a lot of Hindi novels like Colonel Ranjit series and it’s only recently that a whole lot of crime writers have emerged writing in English in our country.
One of the few crime stories that gained a cult following in India was, ‘Bhootnath’ created by Devaki Nandan Khatri, the author of Chandrakanta Santati. It was released in chapters and people would queue up every week to read the subsequent chapter. However, it was an inspired version of James Bond. So somewhere we lacked a true, original and authentic Indian crime story.
The difficulty with writing a great murder mystery is that they all have a fixed structure. I mean you have a murder or a series of murders. There is a detective or a policeman investigating the crime and finally the case is solved and the murderer is caught. The strength of the writer lies in making this into an interesting read.
The detective picks up the thread of investigation and starts to follow it slowly and bit-by-bit step-by-step taking the reader on a journey as he reaches the end of the thread or the conclusion or the solution of the mystery.
In this there could be several suspects, crazy characters, varied situations, action, drama and all. However I tried something new in my first book, The Butcher of Benares. Within the very first thirty pages there are two murders which happen differently and are not connected at all however as Hawa Singh investigates, he finds and reveals how they are connected and solves the riddle.
‘How’ reminds me of the many questions that concern a murder mystery. The very first is: What? What is the crime?
The other important questions are : When? Where? How? Why? Who?
As a writer you go on solving these questions one by one and you have a murder mystery in hand.
The other most important aspect of a murder mystery is the setting. There are many authors who set their books in a particular city like you have Sherlock Holmes operating in London, Michael Connelly writes all his books set in LA, then there are a host of writers from Sweden and Norway with their books set in a particular city. Or there are others where you have the main protagonist moving from place to place like Agatha Christie’s Poirot.
My first book, The Butcher of Benares, is set in Benares while my latest The Swastika Killer moves across continents as the mystery deepens.
Apart from telling an interesting and entertaining story, a crime novel makes social comment. As a writer I try to question – why is crime constantly on rise in spite of stringent laws? What is happening to us as a society? Is it an individual who is responsible for a crime or the whole society? What makes a man kill? What makes a man rape? What is the core of all this violence?
And somewhere we try to find a solution even if we can’t. This requires a lot of sensitivity to the people, places and events.
With this a Crime Novel requires a whole lot of research in terms of the investigation techniques, the police work, forensics, guns and everything. And if the story is set in a particular place then you need to go deep into the surroundings. I used the whole of Benares in my book like the temples, the Ghats, Benares Hindu University and the characters that you find in these places. However still, research should not be so heavy that your book starts to sound like a travel guide.
The tough part of being a Crime Writer is that there are thousands and thousands of Crime writers around the world. There have been hundreds who have done great work. Every week you have hundreds of crime and mystery novels getting published. So you have to compete with all these and still come out with a great story. Nowadays you have so many crime shows on TV and movies so you have to be more interesting than them.
Finally, a crime novel needs to be engaging, interesting, entertaining that keeps a reader hooked and doesn’t allow the reader to put it down.
Now go plan your murder!
Mahendra Jakhar is a Bollywood screenwriter and author. He was a scriptwriter on actor Nawazuddin Siddiqui-starrer Manjhi - The Mountain Man (2015), and has authored The Butcher Of Benares. His latest is The Swastika Killer.