J298 Crime Writing
Crime stories are a writer’s dream: suspenseful, dramatic, filled with violence, deception, dark personalities, and (in some cases) heroic crusaders – everything that makes a great yarn. Great crime tales include everything from suburban murders to jewel heists; art forgery to computer hacks, and corporate bank fraud. Another pleasure is that these stories can take almost any form. They can be curtain-pullers (a behind-the-scenes look at an identity theft ring), profiles (the undercover agent working to bust counterfeit pharmaceutical distributors), science stories (a cold case solved by a new kind of DNA evidence), human sagas (one family’s struggle to understand the man who killed their son), or deep investigations (the forensic evidence that nailed a death-penalty case – and whether it was as infallible as it seemed).
Practically, this class will focus on both writing and skill-building. We’ll get a primer on court records, courtroom access, prison interviews, and how to talk to cops, lawyers, and judges. Because crimes rarely happen when the writer is present, we’ll also study reconstruction: the art of recreating all the elements of a vivid and cinematic scene that you didn’t actually see.
Readings will be wide-ranging, eccentric, and sometimes funny. Writing assignments will begin with a formal pitch, and will finish with a 3000-word piece, the subject of which will have to be defended via in-class magazine-style editorial meetings. We’ll edit the original pitch over the semester as the story sharpens, with an eye to magazine submission. Along the way, we’ll meet with writers and editors from The New Yorker, the New York Times Magazine, Mother Jones, Harper’s, Vanity Fair, and others to learn about the complex evolution of real-world stories – including some of the great magazine articles of the past few years – from the people who wrote them. This class may also include a field trip to Richmond’s own DNA lab, and a visit with the cold case expert who mines it.
Restrictions and Prerequisites:
Students should come to the first class with 3 possible story ideas. These can be unresearched, but should be solid enough that you can give a two-sentence summary of the story as you see it.
Return to Course Schedule
- Location: 104 North Gate
- Time: 10-1 M
- CCN: 48261
- Section: 7
- Units: 3
- Fee: No
- Enrollment Limit: 12