This post is by Jason Hellerman from No Film School

True crime writing has gained immense popularity in recent years, with readers flocking to books, podcasts, and documentaries exploring the criminal underworld.

In this article, we will discuss the key things to keep in mind while writing true crime. By considering these factors, writers can create a compelling and respectful narrative that sheds light on the world of crime while also honoring the experiences of those affected by it.

Plus, they may lead you to the next hit movie or TV show.

So how would we define the true crime genre in film and TV?

Let’s jump in.

Defining the True Crime genre in movies and TV shows
‘American Crime Story: The People Versus O.J.’
Credit: FX

What is True Crime?

True crime is a genre of non-fiction that focuses on real-life crimes, usually violent in nature, and the individuals involved in them. This can include murders, kidnappings, robberies, and other criminal activities.

True crime stories often explore the motivations and psychological factors that drive criminal behavior, as well as the consequences of such actions. They can take many forms, including books, podcasts, TV shows, and documentaries.

True crime has gained immense popularity in recent years, with a growing interest in the criminal justice system and the inner workings of the minds of those who break the law.


Our Fascination With True Crime, Explained

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What Are the Tropes of True Crime?

Like any genre, True Crime has its own set of tropes and cliches you can expect when reading a sample. Let’s dig into them.

  1. The crime itself: True crime stories usually focus on a specific crime or series of crimes, and explore the details of how they were committed.

  2. The investigation: True crime stories often dig into the investigative process, including how law enforcement officers pieced together the evidence to identify suspects and make arrests.

  3. The criminal: True crime stories often delve into the psyche of the criminal, exploring their motivations, backgrounds, and possible mental health issues.

  4. The victim: True crime stories often focus on the victims of the crime, and their families and loved ones. They explore the impact that the crime had on their lives.

  5. The trial: True crime stories often include a trial or court case and explore the legal system’s role in bringing criminals to justice.

  6. The resolution: True crime stories usually provide a sense of closure, either by identifying and punishing the perpetrator or by providing some form of justice for the victim and their family.

  7. The controversy: Some true crime stories involve controversial elements, such as wrongful convictions, police misconduct, or other ethical concerns.

Defining the True Crime genre in movies and TV shows
‘Nightcrawler’
Credit: Open Road Films

Why is True Crime So Popular in Film and TV?

From the recent Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story show to American Crime Story, true crime has never been hotter in Hollywood.

Well, maybe when In Cold Blood came out, but truly it’s now. So, why are people diving in head first to this genre?

There are several reasons why.

  1. Human fascination with crime: Humans have always been fascinated by crime and its causes. True crime stories offer a glimpse into the motivations and psychological factors that drive criminal behavior, which can be both intriguing and educational.

  2. Accessibility: With the rise of streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, true crime documentaries and TV shows have become more accessible to a wider audience. Viewers can watch multiple episodes in one sitting and become fully immersed in the story.

  3. The power of storytelling: True crime stories can be incredibly powerful and emotionally compelling. The best true crime stories are often told in a narrative style that keeps viewers engaged and invested in the outcome.

  4. The justice system: True crime stories often involve the justice system, which can be both fascinating and frustrating. Viewers are drawn to stories that explore the intricacies of the justice system, including its flaws and successes.

  5. Social commentary: True crime stories can also provide a lens through which to view broader social issues, such as poverty, inequality, and mental health. These stories can shed light on societal problems and spark discussions about how to address them.

True crime has become popular in film and TV because it offers viewers a window into the darker side of human nature and the complexities of the justice system. It allows viewers to explore fascinating and often disturbing stories from the safety and comfort of their own homes.

Defining the True Crime genre in movies and TV shows
‘Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story’
Credit: Netflix

What Are Some Examples of True Crime in Film and TV?

Before we jump into how to write this genre, I figured it would be a good time to discuss some of the most famous examples. Here’s a list for you to check out.

  1. Making a Murderer (Netflix series)
  2. The Jinx (HBO series)
  3. The Staircase (Netflix series)
  4. Mindhunter (Netflix series)
  5. The Ted Bundy Tapes (Netflix documentary)
  6. The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX series)
  7. Evil Genius (Netflix documentary)
  8. The Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer (Netflix series)
  9. The Confession Killer (Netflix documentary)
  10. Forensic Files (TV series)

These shows and documentaries cover a range of true crime topics, including serial killers, wrongful convictions, and high-profile court cases. They offer viewers a glimpse into the criminal mind, the justice system, and the complex nature of the crime itself.

Some of these are scripted shows, and some are documentaries, but all have captured the hearts and minds of the audience.

So how can you write a show or movie that uses the same ideals?

Defining the True Crime genre in movies and TV shows
‘Mindhunter’
Credit: Netflix

What Are 9 Things to Keep in Mind While Writing True Crime?

Writing true crime can be a daunting task. It requires careful attention to detail, research, and sensitivity to the victims and their families. At its core, true crime writing is about telling the stories of real people and events compellingly and respectfully.

Whether it’s a book, an article, or a podcast, true crime writing must balance factual accuracy with storytelling techniques to engage readers and listeners.

Here are nine things to keep in mind while writing true crime:

  1. Accuracy: Ensure that all the information in your true crime story is factual and accurate. This means conducting thorough research and fact-checking all your sources to avoid errors.

  2. Sensitivity: Keep in mind the victims and their families when writing your story. Be respectful and sensitive to their feelings, and avoid exploiting their tragedies for the sake of sensationalism.

  3. Ethics: It’s important to consider ethical concerns when writing true crime. Be mindful of privacy issues and avoid violating people’s rights in your pursuit of the story.

  4. Clarity: Write a clear and concise story that is easy for readers to understand. Avoid using jargon or technical language that could be confusing.

  5. Narrative: True crime stories are often more engaging when written as a narrative. Use storytelling techniques to bring the events to life and make them more compelling for readers.

  6. Objectivity: While it’s important to make your story engaging, you should also strive for objectivity. Avoid taking sides or presenting a biased view of the events.

  7. Context: Provide context to help readers understand the background and circumstances that led to the crime. This can help create a more complete and nuanced picture of the events.

  8. Source credibility: Verify the credibility of your sources and ensure that they are reliable. Avoid using sources that have a reputation for being biased or unreliable.

  9. Legal considerations: Keep in mind any legal considerations when writing true crime. Avoid publishing information that could be defamatory or that could harm ongoing investigations.

Defining the True Crime genre in movies and TV shows
‘Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile’
Credit: Netflix

Summing Up the True Crime Genre

Writing true crime can be a challenging but rewarding endeavor.

Remember to approach your work with care and responsibility, and always keep the victims and their families in mind. By doing so, you can honor their experiences while shedding light on the darker corners of society.

Let us know what you think in the comments.