Writing Crime Fiction, Voice First

DP Colgan
Category: Writing

Previous New Writers' Awardee (2015) DP Colgan is hard at work on his second novel. He's taken a wee break to tell us his top tips for finding your voice when writing crime fiction.

Listening to the Voices
I'm currently in the process of re-drafting my second novel, The Hairworm, a gritty crime novel set in Edinburgh. It might sound odd, but I did not set out to write in this genre. I'd tried writing fiction in a variety of literary genres and points of view in the past, but they always felt flat and stodgy. I remember doodling away with my pen, when this voice came into my head and started talking. It was the voice of Lofty, the main character who narrates the story; a petty criminal with a superior attitude to his fellow human beings. I did not analyze what he was saying and went with the flow, scribbling the words down on the page, and that was essential to the creative process. Coming from an Irish oral story telling tradition, I realized it was important to listen to the voices of my characters and go with the flow. 

Connecting With Your Character
When I started writing fiction, I did not consider the significance of connecting personally with the characters, but became more aware of this when working on the current novel. There was a strong emotional connection to the characters, which fueled the writing. I cared about what happened to these characters and the bonds that were formed between them. It became a powerful motivational force to want to write about this. Lofty’s criminal background made him more interesting and engaging, but this was not essential to the process of telling his story. It was the voice of the character and the relationships formed with the other characters that was important.

It was important to listen to the voices of my characters and go with the flow

Breaking Loose from Creative Obstacles
Trying different literary techniques can be very useful to help you get started. Giving Lofty a personal diary enabled the character to express his own thoughts and allowed me to break free of moral and literary constraints. I was able to gain insight into the criminal world that this character inhabited. It wasn't me that was telling the story, Lofty was. I was able to loosen up and get around the mental road blocks and obstacles that get in the way of creating plot, character and narrative. The diary format gave the writing an energy and fluency which I had not experienced before, and an enjoyment of the writing process. 

Cultivating Your Compost
Initially, I didn’t reflect too much on the quality of the material from my main character, Lofty. It was important to get the character’s words out and create a basic shape to these developing pieces. To be honest, some of the early writing was pure manure, but manure is always good fertilizer for growing things. It might be a primitive and basic idea at the start, but re-writing allows it to take root and grow into something sophisticated and hopefully engaging for the reader. Therefore, what looks and feels like manure can actually be the best material for improving and developing the story.


For more tips on getting to grips with writing crime fiction, check out our crime fiction blogs

DP Colgan

DP Colgan was born in Ireland and grew up on a farm. He settled in Edinburgh twenty years ago and considers Scotland to be his home. He has worked as a bar manager, warehouse manager, farm labourer and carpet fitter. He also spent several years as an actor, both in community and profit-share theatre. He currently works in the community housing sector. He completed a degree in History and English Literature at UEL. From an early age, he was steeped in the Irish oral storytelling tradition and was captivated by the stories told by his father and headmaster.