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COURSE NAME: "Creative Writing Workshop: Writing Crime Fiction and Thrillers"
SEMESTER & YEAR: Fall 2023

INSTRUCTOR: Aidan Fadden
EMAIL: [email protected]
HOURS: MW 11:30-12:45 PM
PREREQUISITES: Prerequisites: EN 103 or 105 with a grade of C or above
OFFICE HOURS: by appointment

 The course aims to introduce students to the modern, crime fiction genre (and its sub-genres such as police procedural, psych-thriller, and legal/courtroom thriller) focusing on key texts as models for the development of their own short fiction and novel ideas. The course will trace the broad evolution of crime writing from the 19th Century to the present day. While acknowledging the genre’s international reach, the main emphasis will be on texts in English, particularly those from North America, the UK, and Ireland. A central objective of the course is to emphasize and engage with the continuing social and political relevance of the genre, both as a forum for the discussion of contemporary issues and as a means of setting the agenda, particularly in such areas as globalization and crime, human trafficking, modern slavery, cybercrime, political extremism, and femicide. There will also be a sharp focus on avoiding the pitfalls of stereotypical representation of class, ethnicity, and gender by means of thorough research and sensitivity to the nuance of identity.

Students will analyse important theoretical and practical aspects of general ‘story’ and ‘story telling’ in fiction, addressing concepts such as setting, scene, characterisation, exposition, description, conflict, crisis and resolution. There will be specific emphasis on understanding and employing more genre-specific devices including pacing, suspense, misdirection, conceal and reveal, as well as key protagonist-centred concerns such as personal and ethical dilemmas and the parts these play in plot construction. 


Students will work through the various stages in the writing process including the generation and recording of ideas, prewriting, planning, plotting, drafting, revising, editing and proofreading. Ideas and drafts will be critiqued and workshopped in class. Students will receive regular critical feedback from the their instructor; however, a key emphasis will be on their becoming aware and active self editors. 


The course also aims to marry creativity and craft with an awareness of the changing ‘markets’ for crime fiction and broad commercial concerns regarding obtaining publication, seeking representation, adapting ideas for other media, and maintaining intellectual autonomy, while observing appropriate ethical standards. As such, students will learn to undertake research in order to increase their knowledge of key legal concepts and terminology as well as technical awareness of the theory and practice of criminal investigation.


LOS 1 Students with a B.A. in English Literature possess a foundation in the traditional distinctions between literary genres as well as the ability to think beyond those distinctions in a manner consistent with contemporary literary theory and practice.

LOS 2 Students with a B.A. in English Literature possess an historical understanding of the development of literatures in English and of the influence of the literary, cultural, political, and scientific contexts on texts.

LOS 3 Students with a B.A. in English Literature possess a foundation in the principles of literary and cultural theory, along with the ability to apply these theoretical approaches in interpretations of literary texts.

LOS 4 Students with a B.A. in English Literature possess a comparative perspective on literature and an understanding of the relationship among British, American, other Anglophone literatures, and literature in translation.

LOS 5 Students with a B.A. in English Literature are able to read and write critically in response to primary and secondary literary texts.

LOS 6 Students with a B.A. in English Literature are able to conduct research competently.

LOS 7 Students with a B.A. in English Literature are able to report research findings with intellectual and academic honesty.

LOS 8 Students with a B.A. in English Literature are able to document research accurately and thoroughly, using MLA format.

LOS 9 Students with a B.A. in English Literature are able to communicate effectively and argue their thesis persuasively.

LOS 10 Students with a B.A. in English Literature are able to present and defend their arguments effectively, orally.


Written CritiquesReflections on and technical analyses of key texts20%
Homework and attendanceShorter reading and writing tasks10%
Class ParticipationContribution to class discussion and providing feedback to peers10%
Final Portfolio of around 4000 wordsEncompassing drafting, rewriting, editing, proofreading, presentation, originality, use of technique60%

AWork of this quality directly addresses the question or problem raised and provides a coherent argument displaying an extensive knowledge of relevant information or content. This type of work demonstrates the ability to critically evaluate concepts and theory and has an element of novelty and originality. There is clear evidence of a significant amount of reading beyond that required for the course.
BThis is highly competent level of performance and directly addresses the question or problem raised.There is a demonstration of some ability to critically evaluatetheory and concepts and relate them to practice. Discussions reflect the student’s own arguments and are not simply a repetition of standard lecture andreference material. The work does not suffer from any major errors or omissions and provides evidence of reading beyond the required assignments.
CThis is an acceptable level of performance and provides answers that are clear but limited, reflecting the information offered in the lectures and reference readings.
DThis level of performances demonstrates that the student lacks a coherent grasp of the material.Important information is omitted and irrelevant points included.In effect, the student has barely done enough to persuade the instructor that s/he should not fail.
FThis work fails to show any knowledge or understanding of the issues raised in the question. Most of the material in the answer is irrelevant.

Attendance is mandatory.
As stated in the university catalog, any student who commits an act of academic dishonesty will receive a failing grade on the work in which the dishonesty occurred. In addition, acts of academic dishonesty, irrespective of the weight of the assignment, may result in the student receiving a failing grade in the course. Instances of academic dishonesty will be reported to the Dean of Academic Affairs. A student who is reported twice for academic dishonesty is subject to summary dismissal from the University. In such a case, the Academic Council will then make a recommendation to the President, who will make the final decision.
John Cabot University does not discriminate on the basis of disability or handicap. Students with approved accommodations must inform their professors at the beginning of the term. Please see the website for the complete policy.


Prof. Aidan Fadden (writing as Aidan Conway: 

https://www.aidanconway.net/) CW357 

General Focus


In Class /Activity

The Writing Process and technique

Reading Homework

Writing Homework

Notes and Assignment deadlines

Week One: 1 (n.b.schedule is subject to change)

Orientation, introduction to the course; what is Crime Fiction (CF)?

What fiction across the crime genres and sub-genres have you read?

Questionnaire on reading and writing habits

Writing in a particular genre; short story/novel/novella

Pdf tba on Moodle: origins and ‘blueprint’ of CF. A short story.

Write a review of a favourite novel

Poe, Doyle,


The CF blueprint, genres, overview of evolution of the form; limits and possibilities

Favourite CF protagonists: Holmes, Marple, Marlow, Rebus, Scarpetta…

Placing extracts in the genres; openings; describing a murder or serious crime

Knowing the conventions

Novel and Story openings: key differences

A critique and analysis /


Week 2

Key elements of Story: The Detective, The PI, the Hero. Empathy and integrity. Humanity versus heroism, brilliance. Flaws and needs.

The persistence of archetypes; avoiding stereotypes; inclusivity and gender, race, class

Building a main character - finding your Holmes, Marlow, Scarpetta etc. Variations on the archetype

Writing from experience and research; team write a character; individual brainstorm

Introduction to great protagonists: Philip Marlow; Harry Bosch; Jack Reacher

Sketching out some ideas for a protagonist: biographical info, social class, job, likes, dislikes etc. Status, personal life





Characterisation and character; loner and knight errant; mavericks and outsiders

Class feedback on character profiles

Presenting your protagonist in a scene: crime scene, domestic, other

The writing notebook; ideas are everywhere; drawing on your surroundings, the quotidian; daily word count

McKee on Character; Ross McDonald; Lee Child’s Reacher Novels

Develop a story idea for your protagonist with a crime at its centre / A premise for a novel

Ross McDonald: Lew Archer; film adaptation




Sidekicks and partners; Holmes and Watson as archetype, model and stereotype

Does your protagonist need a partner? What about a team?

A scene with protagonist and partner; a superior, a boss, a suspect, a rival

Beats and scenes; Dialogue and action for character

A contemporary short story: Lehane

Develop a story with a crime at its centre / A premise for a novel

TV: True Detective S1E1; Scooby Doo; Mick Herron’s Slow Horses

First 1000 word draft of first story idea or chapter is due


Setting and Premise. Where to place the action and protagonist. Series and Standalone; place as character

USA v. Europe. City v. Small Town. How contemporary should it be?

Location; duration; period; level of conflict. Draft a setting for your protagonist; work on MS feedback

Research and knowledge - limitations and possibilities

Philip Kerr Berlin Trilogy (extract); Deighton Trilogy (extract) Mexico

Decide on a setting; describe the environment and its story potential

McKee; post war; small-town; metropolis; Red Harvest - ‘Personville’

Week 4

A crime occurs - the inciting incident; Story, equilibrium, want and need; indecision and acceptance

What does a character want? Professional, personal, emotional, romantic

Brainstorm and draft your character a backstory and a mission or goal (realisable?)

Filling in backstory succinctly; exposition dos and don’ts; show and tell

Connelly The Narrows (extract)

Write a paragraph of back story fill in for a novel. Squeezing back story into a story.

Vonnegut Story Charts; Writing Rules; E. Leonard


Plot: Three Act Structure - Act I

Murder, crime, disappearance?

Building a cast of characters, suspects, friends and enemies; the story world

Narrative Voice: 1st/3rd Person; past tense vs present tense: building tension

The High Concept Thriller: McKinty ‘The Chain’ (extract)

Build a rough story line going forward involving the cast;

Plotting and pantsing; The Poet and The Narrows - sequels




‘Fun and Games’

Misdirection and red herrings in the set up; foreshadowing

Sub plots: relationships; your hero at home

POV - moving between your characters

Extremes: J.Ellroy vs. P. Hawkins (extracts)

Review feedback

See Keating on foreshadowing

The revised first 2000 words of stories/novel is due.


First major Plot Point - turning point: possibilities

Crime Fiction or Crime Thriller? International intrigue/espionage.

Present your WIP; workshop and feedback

Revising and editing as you go; planning ahead and sketching scenes

tba: How the picture gets bigger (Mankell, Connelly)

First 10-15 pages including the inciting incident; a long short story

Mankell - The Troubled Man; Connelly - The Narrows

Week 6

The Killer, the Villain

Serial, spree, vendetta, terror,

Sketch a profile for him/her; peer critique

First person, writing antiheroes, unreliable narrators

Extract: Thompson- The Killer Inside Me

Critique, reaction

Highsmith - Ripley; Strangers on a Train


Plotting: obstacles and conflict, set backs; suspense, violence, action

How do you maintain interest and tension?

Put your protagonist in a difficult situation based on Act I set up; suspense vs. action

Keeping track of changes and drafts

R. Chandler “The Simple Art of Murder” (and other advice)

A first person monologue: make your killer sympathetic



Stereotypes and archetypes: the killer

The influence of TV and film; stories as TV material

Peer review and editing of monologues

Cutting: trimming fat and killing your darlings

Lee Child foreword Crime Anthology

Revising your WIP

Draft of first 3000 words of stories/ novel is due.


Speech vs. Thought. Direct and indirect, tagged and freestyle. Interior monologue, ‘stream of consciousness’.

How to get inside your characters’ heads

Rewriting in different styles; peer edits and suggestions; working on MS feedback

Dialogue vs Narration: balance and benefits

Theory essay tba; McLaverty ‘Walking the Dog’


Gogol’s ‘Overcoat’ - a victim of crime

Week 8

Overt narration and covert narration.

Writing from a victim’s POV; factuality and believability

Adapting true crime for literary purposes; flash fiction based on news event

Dialogue tags and reporting verbs

Lehane ‘Running Out of Dog’

Evaluate a contemporary story in the media

War, refugees, femicide, incels, cost of living crisis


Subject, themes, symbolism, resonance; zeitgeist and relevance

What is your novel/story about? What does it mean?

Peer review and feedback on theme and symbolism

Character motivation and credibility;

S.King; Keating, (extracts)

Work on WIP for themes, symbolism, resonance; submit for feedback



More literary approaches to narrative: Free Indirect Discourse 

Humour, irony, ‘dark’ comedy and crime

Analysing an extract- Elmore Leonard. Emulating his style.

Breaking the rules - L.Child

E. Leonard 10 Rules for Good Writing

Writing or rewriting a scene in a way you would not normally do - FDI, SOC, freestyle

Revised first 3000 words of stories/novel is due.

Week 10

Stories in the media, 
Ethics, authenticity, sensitivity        Workshop 'people watching' ideas              find a story in the media                 draft an idea for a story or an outline for a novel 


Week 11

Work on structural edits in class


Working on MS feedback; queries and feedback

Honing dialogue when revising


Work on MS


Week 12




Week 13



Week 14

Revision of key aspects of the course


Workshopping MS


Copy editing and proofreading

Publication approaches: self publishing, traditional publishing, e publishing, hybrid


Revising, editing and proofreading, polishing portfolios



Deadline for final draft of portfolio.







Story. Robert McKee. 

Story and Discourse. Seymour Benjamin Chatman.

On Writing. Stephen King. 

The Crime Fiction Handbook. Peter B. Messent

The Best American Mystery Stories, 2010. Anthology. Ed. Lee Child; Otto Penzler

Adventures in the Screen Trade. William Goldman

Writing Crime Fiction. HRF Keating