Inspiring Quotes From Inspiring Crime Thriller Writers

If you’re a writer—crime thriller or otherwise—sometimes you need a break… then a kick in the butt to get back in the chair and your fingers on the keys. I’m going through this after taking a two-week writing hiatus. Rita (my wife of 37 years) and I took a vacation, and Rita forbid (forbade?) me to write during our time away.

So, I’m back home and started to type a new manuscript that’s book 6 in my based-on-true-crime series. Although I know the story inside out, I confess I had a hard time getting in the chair and placing my fingers on the keyboard. Knowing I also had a Kill Zone post due this week, I decided to do a two-birds-with-one stone thing and get something stirring.

I spent an evening surfing the net and searching for motivation and creativity support. It worked. In the past three days, I’ve written 8991 words in my Between The Bikers manuscript. My renewed energy and creative juice is partly thanks to taking a writing break and finding inspiring quotes from inspiring crime thriller writers. I’d like to share some of them with you.

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The way to write a thriller is to ask a question at the beginning, and answer it at the end. ~Lee Child

Place the body near the beginning of your book—preferably on the first page, perhaps the first sentence. ~Louise Penny

I’m interested in starting stories at the moment of some crisis to see how the character deals with it. ~Paul Auster

Figure out what exactly is at stake, and how to establish it quickly. That’s your conflict. ~Katia Lief

I’m always pretending that I’m sitting across from somebody. I’m telling a story, and I don’t want them to get up until I’m finished. ~James Patterson

Life is about working out who the bad guy is. ~Sophie Hannah

An initial crisis may produce a question, one that takes the form of a challenge to the reader: Can they solve the puzzle before the answer is revealed? In its simplest form the crisis is a murder and the question is whodunit? ~Unknown

I can’t start writing until I have a closing line. ~Joseph Heller

Often know how the book will end and have imagined a number of major scenes throughout, but not always how I will get there. When I’m about two-thirds done I re-outline the whole book so I know that I’m delivering on all I promised. ~Jeff Abbott

Crime stories are rarely about crime. They’re a study of its aftermath. ~Unknown

The only writers who survive the ages are those who understand the need for action in a novel. ~Dean Koontz

People don’t read books to get to the middle. They read to get to the end. ~Mickey Spillane

I do extensive outlines before I write a single word. ~Jeffrey Deaver

Plot develops from the initial setup of the characters, their conflicts and the location. This development is fueled by the characters’ decisions. These choices should be tough and compromising with high risks of failure. ~Unknown

I like to come up with a massive scale concept and throw in very ordinary characters because I think if you have a massive scale concept with massive scale characters they tend to cancel each other out. People have more fun if they can imagine how either themselves or the type of people they know would react in a bizarre situation. It’s a bit boring if you know how some highly trained soldier is going to react to a situation. It’s not very interesting compared to how someone who is an electrician or a schoolteacher might react to a situation. ~Christopher Brookmyre

The first chapter sells the book; the last chapter sells the next book. ~Mickey Spillane

Readers have to feel you know what you’re talking about. ~Margaret Murphy

Keep asking ‘Who wants something?’ ‘Why do they need it?’ and ‘What’ll happen if they don’t get it? ~Unknown

A man’s grammar, like Caesar’s wife, should not only be pure, but above suspicion of impurity. ~Edgar Allan Poe

Chapters are shorter than they used to be, and I have to be creative about ways to keep the pace moving: varying my sentence length, making sure each chapter ends on a note of suspense, keeping excess narration to a minimum. ~Joseph Finder

My ideas? Headlines. The human heart. My deepest fears. The inner voice that says: if it scares you, it’ll scare readers too. ~Meg Gardiner

Surprise is when a leader is unexpectedly shot whilst giving a speech. Suspense is when the leader is delivering a speech while an assassin waits in the audience. ~Unknown

I’d have to say that most of my ideas originate with everyday anxieties. What if I forgot to lock the door? What if a horrific crime happened next door? What if my daughter didn’t show up at work? What if I woke up one day and the house was empty? ~Linwood Barclay

Ideas are not the hard part of writing. I have ideas all the time. The challenge is understanding which ideas are the most interesting and powerful and dramatic, and then finding the best way to bring them to life. It’s all in the execution, because the idea is where the work begins, not where it ends. ~Jeff Abbott

If you don’t understand that story is character and not just idea, you will not be able to breathe life into even the most intriguing flash of inspiration. ~Elizabeth George

 The character that lasts is an ordinary guy with some extraordinary qualities. ~Raymond Chandler

You’re looking for your character who’s got the absolute most at stake, and that’s the person who you want your story to be about. ~Daniel Palmer

Keep a plate spinning until the final paragraph. Then let it fall. ~Unknown

Books aren’t written, they’re rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn’t quite done it… ~Michael Crichton 

You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page. ~Jodi Picoult

When you’re editing write the following words onto a Post-it note in big red letters and stick it on your monitor: ‘Who Cares?’. If something has no bearing on the story, leave it out. ~Stuart MacBride

If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word. ~Margaret Atwood 

The best advice is the simplest. Write what you love. And do it everyday. There’s only one way to learn how to write, and that’s to write. ~Steve Berry

Don’t go into great detail describing places and things… You don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill. ~Elmore Leonard

Read aloud. And not just your own work. Read good writing aloud.

Listen to the sound the words make. ~Unknown

A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author. ~G K Chesterton

Write about what you never want to know. ~Michael Connelly 

I always refer to style as sound. The sound of the writing. ~Elmore Leonard

Before you can be a writer you have to experience some things, see some of the world, go through things – love, heartbreak, and so on -, because you need to have something to say. ~John  Grisham

Writing is work. It’s also gambling. You don’t get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you’re on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don’t whine. ~Margaret Atwood

The words characters use and the gestures they make should be enough for the reader to know who is talking and how they’re feeling. ~Unknown

I try to leave out the parts that people skip. ~Elmore Leonard

Writing is the flip side of sex – it’s good only when it’s over. ~Hunter S Thompson

My task, which I am trying to achieve, is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel – it is, before all, to make you see. ~Joseph Conrad

Write every day even if it is just a paragraph. ~Michael Connelly

All the information you need can be given in dialogue. ~Elmore Leonard

Have something you want to say. ~Ian Rankin

Any author, like their protagonist, must endure sacrifice, or be willing to do so, ~Unknown

There are only two pieces of advice any would-be writer needs. The first is Give up. Those who heed that don’t need to hear the second, which is Don’t give up. ~Mick Herron

My purpose is to entertain myself first and other people secondly. ~John D MacDonald

I never read a review of my own work. Either it was going to depress me or puff me up in ways that are useless. ~Paul Auster

I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite. ~G K Chesterton

I abhor crime novels in which the main character can behave however he or she pleases, or do things that normal people do not do, without those actions having social consequences. ~Steig Larsson

The best crime novels are all based on people keeping secrets. All lying – you may think a lie is harmless, but you put them all together and there’s a calamity. ~Alafair Burke

With the crime novels, it’s delightful to have protagonists I can revisit in book after book. It’s like having a fictitious family. ~John Banville

I think the “crime novel” has replaced the sociological novel of the 1930s. I think the progenitor of that tradition is James M. Cain, who in my view is the most neglected writer in American literature. ~James Lee Burke

The most difficult part of any crime novel is the plotting. It all begins simply enough, but soon you’re dealing with a multitude of linked characters, strands, themes and red herrings – and you need to try to control these unruly elements and weave them into a pattern. ~Ian Rankin

Crime fiction makes money. It may be harder for writers to get published, but crime is doing better than most of what we like to call CanLit. It’s elementary, plot-driven, character-rich story-telling at its best. ~Linwood Barclay

Crime fiction confirms our belief, despite some evidence to the contrary, that we live in a rational, comprehensible, and moral universe. ~P.D. James

Most crime fiction, no matter how ‘hard-boiled’ or bloodily forensic, is essentially sentimental, for most crime writers are disappointed romantics. ~John Banveiile

And there are rules for crime fiction. Or if not rules, at least expectations and you have to give the audience what it wants. ~Tod Goldberg

Crime fiction is the fiction of social history. Societies get the crimes they deserve. ~Denise Mina

One of the surprising things I hadn’t expected when I decided to write crime fiction is how much you are expected to be out in front of the public. Some writers aren’t comfortable with that. I don’t have a problem with that. ~Kathy Reichs

The mainstream has lost its way. Crime fiction is an objective, realistic genre because it’s about the real world, real bodies really being killed by somebody. And this involves the investigator in trying to understand the society that the person lived in. ~Michael Dibin

Anyone who says, ‘Books don’t change anything,’ or – more commonly – that crime fiction is the wrong genre for promoting social change – should take a closer look. ~Andrew Vachss

The danger that may really threaten (crime fiction) is that soon there will be more writers than readers. ~Jacques Barzun

I’ll bet you $10 right now that there are an awful lot of literary writers who started a long time ago and now they find themselves in this place where secretly they feel trapped. And you know what they really read for fun? They read crime fiction. ~Robert Crais

There is sometimes a feeling in crime fiction that good writing gets in the way of story. I have never felt that way. All you have is language. Why write beneath yourself? It’s an act of respect for the reader as much as yourself. ~John Connolly

It wasn’t a decision to become a writer. I wanted to become a writer of crime fiction. I was very specific. ~Michael Connelly

Crime fiction, especially noir and hardboiled, is the literature of the proletariat. ~Adrian McKinty

There are a number of writers who believe it is their duty to throw as many curve balls at the reader as possible. To twist and twist again. These are the Chubby Checkers of crime fiction and, while I admire the craft, I think that it can actually work against genuine suspense. ~Mark Billingham

I had done 12 little romance books, and I decided I wanted to move into crime fiction. ~Janet Evanovich

I respond very well to rules. If there are certain parameters it’s much easier to do something really good. Especially when readers know what those are. They know what to expect and then you have to wrong-foot them. That is the trick of crime fiction. And readers come to crime and graphic novels wanting to be entertained, or disgusted. ~Denise Mina

Most crime fiction plots are not ambitious enough for me. I want something really labyrinthine with clues and puzzles that will reward careful attention. ~Sophie Hannah

I’ve always been drawn to the extremes of human behavior, and crime fiction is a great way to explore the lives and stories of fascinating people. ~Nick Petrie

The best crime stories are not about how cops work on cases. It’s about how cases work on cops. ~Joseph Wambaugh

If you don’t have the time to read, you simply don’t have the tools to write. ~Stephen King

What about you, Kill Zoners? What great writing quotes do you have? What would you like to share?

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Garry Rodgers is a retired homicide detective and forensic coroner, now a struggling crime writer and indie publisher. Garry has twenty pieces up on Amazon, Kobo, and Nook including his Based-On-True-Crime Series featuring investigations he was involved in while attached to the RCMP’s Serious Crimes Section.

Garry Rodgers also has a popular website and regular blog at www.DyingWords.net. When not writing, Garry spends time putting around the saltwater near his home on Vancouver Island in British Columbia at Canada’s southwest coast.

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26 thoughts on “Inspiring Quotes From Inspiring Crime Thriller Writers

  1. You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page. ~Jodi Picoult

    Words to live by. Great post, Garry. I was surprised to see NAMES OF THE DEAD by Katia Lief. It’s one of my all-time faves.

    Hope the treehouse stopped leaking for the end of your trip!

    • Thanks, Sue. I remember you saying that Katia Lief was one of your favorite writers. That’s why I put that image in 🙂 And, yes, the treehouse got sealed up the very next morning. The owners gave us one night discount for that.

  2. “…most crime writers are disappointed romantics.”

    That immediately brought to mind Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe who secretly wants to be the noble knight of old but is trapped in the twentieth century:

    “Over the entrance doors … there was a broad stained-glass panel showing a knight in dark armor rescuing a lady who was tied to a tree and didn’t have any clothes on but some very long and convenient hair … I stood there and thought that if I lived in the house, I would sooner or later have to climb up there and help him. He didn’t seem to be really trying.”

    Lots of great motivation in these quotes, Garry. Thanks!

  3. Great post, Garry! So much inspiration made me reflect on the writing quotes I most admire. Here are two, both by Francis Bacon:
    – “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.”
    – “The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.”

    I’ve been reading some P.D. James novels lately, and I also like her quote that you had in your article: “Crime fiction confirms our belief, despite some evidence to the contrary, that we live in a rational, comprehensible, and moral universe.” That’s a belief I would like to live up to in my work.

  4. Very inspiring post, Gary! Very timely for me, too, since I’m finally starting the draft of my first library mystery, after taking the last month or so to prepare the book.

    “The most difficult part of any crime novel is the plotting. It all begins simply enough, but soon you’re dealing with a multitude of linked characters, strands, themes and red herrings – and you need to try to control these unruly elements and weave them into a pattern”. ~Ian Rankin

    True I think! So many balls to keep in the air. I’m using Scrivener to keep track of all of those balls and create a series bible, and it’s proving a godsend. I’ve never been able to draft a book in it, but for organizing, it’s really coming in handy.

    Another favorite quote comes from Mikey Spillane: “The first chapter sells the book; the last chapter sells the next book.”

    • Nice to hear you got some value from this, Dale. I’ve tried Scrivener but couldn’t get the hang of it so I went back to my tried & true way of using the link analysis and flow chart system that I was taught way back in Criminal Investigation 101. I do it on a whiteboard so changes are easy – the inevitable changes 🙂

  5. “Too many quotes make your brain go numb.” –Marilynn Byerly

    “Hell, there are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.”
    — Thomas A. Edison

    “Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck–but, most of all, endurance.” — James Baldwin

    “I’m just starting [a new book] and the battle has already begun. I don’t think they ever go smoothly. It’s work. It should be work. It should be hard work. I think if you sort of sit around and wait to be inspired, you’re probably going to be sitting there a long time. My process is more about crafting, working an idea through my head to see if it’s a good concept.” Nora Roberts/JD Robb in an interview with the “Hagerstown Herald-Mail.”

    “Remember your dreams and fight for them. You must know what you want from life.There is just one thing that makes your dream become impossible: the fear of failure. Never forget your Personal Legend. Never forget your dreams. Your silent heart will guide you. Be silent now. It is the possibility of a dream that makes life interesting. You can choose between being a victim of destiny or an adventurer who is fighting for something important.” THE ALCHEMIST by Paulo Coelho

    • I agree with the quote by Marilynn Byerly. There are a lot of quotes her. BTW, thanks for the Alchemist quote. I’ve wanted to read it for a long time.

  6. My favorites from this list: “Write about what you never want to know.” ~Michael Connelly

    And: “…if it scares you, it’ll scare readers too.” ~Meg Gardiner

    The cool thing is, I don’t have to be a crime/thriller writer to scare my readers; regular life in 2020 suburbia is nail-biting enough. Humanity is genius at creating panic without bringing in a guy with a gun or throwing a body in the middle of the crowd at Mardi Gras.

    (But, the guy with the gun and the body flung off the hotel balcony to land on a parked car probably wouldn’t hurt…) 🙂

    Thanks for a great post, Garry.

  7. “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
    Stephen King

    I have fond memories of Vancouver and Vancouver Island. My dad ran the mill at Gold River. Great place to be a kid. It was next to wild back then.

  8. I’ve never forgot Mr. King’s adverb advice. Funny you should mention Gold River, Cynthia. We were going to go up there a few weeks ago, but then we got inundated with smoke from the US west coast fires and couldn’t see a thing. It’s smoky again today – just not quite as thick.

  9. I like this one by James M. Cain: “The academics don’t know that the only thing you can do for someone who wants to write is to buy him [or her] a typewriter.”

    • Good one, Bob. Thanks for adding it. Mr. Cain is showing his age like the rest of us. You can only buy a typewriter in an antique store these days. I got my 32-year-old daughter (also a writer/editor) a functioning typewriter for Christmas and she was absolutely enthralled with it.

  10. Thanks, Garry. I’m a big fan of writing quotes, and keep several around in my office. Here’s another from Mr. Mickey Spillane:

    “Those big-shot writers could never dig the fact that there are more salted peanuts consumed than caviar.”

  11. Quite the list, Garry. Thank you. I love the Leonard quote about Detroit. He could have said the same thing about Akron.

    • I had to go back and read the fine print on Leonard’s image/quote, Joe. Great analogy! I also realized how many Leonard quotes are in this post. The man spoke to me.

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