Crime-Action instead of Detective Story

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  • Crime-Action instead of Detective Story

    Hey guys,

    in my story a cop from out of town defeats a group of Neonazi terrorists with a little help from the local police. My problem is that it reads too much like a detective story. It only turns into an action piece pretty much in the end for the final battle.

    I would prefer to have an ongoing cat and mouse game between them, but for that the bad guys would have to be more active. Do you have any tips for creating this back and forth punches between hero and antagonists? Is it better to show the bad guys and cross cut between them and the hero or just to focus on the hero and have the attacks sprung on him?

    My mind somehow just keeps going back to the lame investigation plot that I actually don't like ...

  • #2
    Re: Crime-Action instead of Detective Story

    Originally posted by Yaso View Post
    Hey guys,

    in my story a cop from out of town defeats a group of Neonazi terrorists with a little help from the local police. My problem is that it reads too much like a detective story. It only turns into an action piece pretty much in the end for the final battle.

    I would prefer to have an ongoing cat and mouse game between them, but for that the bad guys would have to be more active. Do you have any tips for creating this back and forth punches between hero and antagonists? Is it better to show the bad guys and cross cut between them and the hero or just to focus on the hero and have the attacks sprung on him?

    My mind somehow just keeps going back to the lame investigation plot that I actually don't like ...
    I don't know if all the titles on the following list fit your definition of "cat and mouse" good guy-bad guy criteria, but The French Connection and No Country for Old Men hit a chord with me. I'd study the film and script structure of those for starters.

    Cinema's Best to Worst Cat-and-Mouse Movies

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    • #3
      Re: Crime-Action instead of Detective Story

      an investigative story usually stays mostly in the POV of the investigator and is about creating suspense and uncovering mystery.

      A crime/action piece in the way you describe might divide its time between the POVs of the characters and will have clear goals and obstacles, that are then fraught with complications.

      A simplistic generalization, but maybe it'll help.

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Crime-Action instead of Detective Story

        Originally posted by Yaso View Post
        Hey guys,

        in my story a cop from out of town defeats a group of Neonazi terrorists with a little help from the local police. My problem is that it reads too much like a detective story. It only turns into an action piece pretty much in the end for the final battle.

        I would prefer to have an ongoing cat and mouse game between them, but for that the bad guys would have to be more active. Do you have any tips for creating this back and forth punches between hero and antagonists? Is it better to show the bad guys and cross cut between them and the hero or just to focus on the hero and have the attacks sprung on him?

        My mind somehow just keeps going back to the lame investigation plot that I actually don't like ...
        If you're aiming for a "cat-and-mouse" dynamic with the protag and antag going toe-to-toe with each other, then I think it's in your best interest to cut between scenes of the good guy and then scenes of the bad guy working against him/outsmarting him. If you just show the hero investigating with attacks being "sprung on him", then it becomes more of a mystery, which it seems you're trying to avoid.

        Of course, showing more of the antagonist means you're going to have to put more work into developing him as a character. Meaning we understand his motivations for doing what he does, and see him not just as a bad guy but a three-dimensional person who has other sides to him as well (e.g., he dotes on his young nephew/niece, or he is upset about his divorce).
        "I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork.-- Peter De Vries

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        • #5
          Re: Crime-Action instead of Detective Story

          Thank you guys so much. You are making me really hopeful that I'll be able to execute my vision.

          "The French Connection and No Country for Old Men hit a chord with me."

          With me, too. My story is more on the comical end of the spectrum, but that doesn't change much about the plot. I will look into those two again.

          "an investigative story usually stays mostly in the POV of the investigator"

          That's a good hint. I think that my judgement is clouded by trying to be too artistic, basically limiting myself to one POV.

          "Of course, showing more of the antagonist means you're going to have to put more work into developing him as a character."

          Another very good hint. I think I should flesh out my antagonist more by creating some distinct actions he takes to attack my hero.

          The rewrite is going to be fun

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Crime-Action instead of Detective Story

            Originally posted by Yaso View Post
            Hey guys,

            in my story a cop from out of town defeats a group of Neonazi terrorists with a little help from the local police. My problem is that it reads too much like a detective story. It only turns into an action piece pretty much in the end for the final battle.

            I would prefer to have an ongoing cat and mouse game between them, but for that the bad guys would have to be more active. Do you have any tips for creating this back and forth punches between hero and antagonists? Is it better to show the bad guys and cross cut between them and the hero or just to focus on the hero and have the attacks sprung on him?

            My mind somehow just keeps going back to the lame investigation plot that I actually don't like ...
            It might be that you're waiting too long to introduce the conflict directly between the protag and antag-- if it's a group you're after then you should be able to create some action sequences (3-4) throughout the story as the protag gets closer and closer to the end target.

            See if you can create moments where the antag tries to derail or stop the protag from getting to the next step-- it's all about the obstacles you place in front your hero.

            You should be able to create an action sequence in (at least) each act. The more active your hero is at chasing the bad guys (or them chasing him) the more opportunities you'll have for action sequences involving the antags.

            I'm not suggesting it's easy, but I'm working through the same issue with a crime noir thriller with the same problem and the answer was to bring the hero face to face with the second threat sooner.

            So if it's an action driven actioneer then the focus is on the hero hunting down the antags like in Borne Supremacy where Jason's investigation allows him to work his 'way up' chain of command, getting closer and closer to the ultimate head of the organization-- which is his goal.

            And if it's an action driven thriller like Borne Identity then the action sequences are a result of the antags 'almost' catching your hero and the cat n mouse comes from reversals within the action sequence-- one has the upper hand then in the next move the other has the upper hand. When the hero escapes the baddy's have to find a new way or tactic to get close to the hero again.
            "Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist,- Pablo Picasso

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            • #7
              Re: Crime-Action instead of Detective Story

              I was just told by a colleague: "You are more about backstory than the real story. Bad writing. Turn the backstory into the real story."

              Right now the plot goes like this:

              * An old friend visits my hero.
              * My hero and his friend get shot
              * The friend dies, but my hero wakes up in the hospital.
              * My hero drives to his friend's sister. It's a girl he has had an affair with but didn't call back after.
              * She gives him an adress where he might find the killers ...


              Does that mean the whole set-up with the friend is flawed? Because right now it creates a HUGE, HUGE pull backwards to the backstory.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Crime-Action instead of Detective Story

                Originally posted by Yaso View Post
                I was just told by a colleague: "You are more about backstory than the real story. Bad writing. Turn the backstory into the real story."

                Right now the plot goes like this:

                * An old friend visits my hero.
                * My hero and his friend get shot
                * The friend dies, but my hero wakes up in the hospital.
                * My hero drives to his friend's sister. It's a girl he has had an affair with but didn't call back after.
                * She gives him an adress where he might find the killers ...


                Does that mean the whole set-up with the friend is flawed? Because right now it creates a HUGE, HUGE pull backwards to the backstory.
                So, your hero cop comes to a strange town and risks his life fighting a gang of neo-nazis, because his friend was murdered there by the same? Seems like a pretty quick in-and-out start.
                • Follow a big city cop as he enters a small town (we don't know why, yet).
                • He checks the address, then waits for someone (we don't know who, yet) at (let's not make it a bar or greasy spoon, too cliche')... a drive-in theater.
                • Friend shows up, pounds on the car door (scares the **** out of us and the cop). They say hello and friend hops in the car.
                • Cop & friend chat (but we're outside, don't here convo) - maybe a little foreshadowing with the movie on the screen?
                • Cut to a van sneaking through the theater gate (could be a bunch of teens).
                • We here the last part of convo between cop and friend, but it's generic, and right before the friend divulges the details...
                • Van pulls into empty space next to cop's car, gunmen jump out, and BLAM! (but we don't know who or why, yet).


                3 pages tops. Now, your job is to gradually, and teasingly answer all those who and why questions with mostly present- (not back-) story.

                Option B: FARGO it. The cop simply discovers his friend's bullet-riddled body.

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                • #9
                  Re: Crime-Action instead of Detective Story

                  Originally posted by bioprofessor View Post
                  So, your hero cop comes to a strange town and risks his life fighting a gang of neo-nazis, because his friend was murdered there by the same? Seems like a pretty quick in-and-out start.

                  3 pages tops. Now, your job is to gradually, and teasingly answer all those who and why questions with mostly present- (not back-) story.

                  Option B: FARGO it. The cop simply discovers his friend's bullet-riddled body.
                  The concern I have with this is that the friend's death happens so soon. If this is going to be a revenge tale, with the primary motivation of the protag being revenge, then I feel we need to get a sense of why it's so important to him. Which would entail getting to know why he cared about his friend so much, which would necessitate getting to know his friend in more time than three pages could afford. I think it's possible to spend 8-10 pages doing so while still setting up the larger story, maybe by having the friend make reference to trouble he's having with some local guys.
                  "I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork.-- Peter De Vries

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Crime-Action instead of Detective Story

                    Originally posted by UpandComing View Post
                    The concern I have with this is that the friend's death happens so soon. If this is going to be a revenge tale, with the primary motivation of the protag being revenge, then I feel we need to get a sense of why it's so important to him. Which would entail getting to know why he cared about his friend so much, which would necessitate getting to know his friend in more time than three pages could afford. I think it's possible to spend 8-10 pages doing so while still setting up the larger story, maybe by having the friend make reference to trouble he's having with some local guys.
                    Good points, but I think we could get to "know" his friend as the cop gradually uncovers whatever got his friend (and probably others) murdered. Seems to me, that keeping that from the cop and audience would add to the mystery and suspense. That, and the main story is what the cop wants and needs to do. I think the revenge angle would be the least interesting choice. Let's see what the OP has to say.

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                    • #11
                      Re: Crime-Action instead of Detective Story

                      Originally posted by bioprofessor View Post
                      Good points, but I think we could get to "know" his friend as the cop gradually uncovers whatever got his friend (and probably others) murdered. Seems to me, that keeping that from the cop and audience would add to the mystery and suspense. That, and the main story is what the cop wants and needs to do. I think the revenge angle would be the least interesting choice. Let's see what the OP has to say.
                      I agree we could get to know the details of the friend's life over the course of the story -- but still don't think those details would allow us to empathize with the protag as much as seeing him interact with his friend one-on-one (unless, we got to learn about their relationship during the story through flashbacks). But yes, curious to hear what OP thinks.
                      "I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork.-- Peter De Vries

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                      • #12
                        Re: Crime-Action instead of Detective Story

                        I can understand UpAndComing's fear of the death being too soon. Right now it's like that in my story. Of course I oversimplified the plot for the sake of understanding ...

                        What I definitely don't want is FARGOING it, because it's too much like a detective story as it is. I want LESS investigation, LESS mystery, LESS suspense and more fighting and more possibilities for jokes. It should be an all out war against the Nazis, with my crazy cop on the loose.

                        Maybe I need a save the cat moment for the friend so that the audience grows empathetic of him? Or is it really necessary to have both characters spend time with each other?

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Crime-Action instead of Detective Story

                          Originally posted by Yaso View Post
                          Maybe I need a save the cat moment for the friend so that the audience grows empathetic of him? Or is it really necessary to have both characters spend time with each other?
                          I think there are cases where you don't really need to see the protag and the character for whom revenge is being sought spend time a lot of time together. For example:

                          Kill Bill (her fiance)
                          John Wick (his dog)
                          Django Unchained (his wife)

                          The thing with these characters is they have built-in empathy factors -- the fiance, someone she wants to spend the rest of her life with; the dog, an animal who provides comfort to him over his dead wife; the slave wife, someone who was wrongly taken away.

                          Having your protag start an "all-out war" involving mass killings over someone just because he was a good friend just doesn't feel like enough.

                          If you want to keep the friend's onscreen time really short, then I would establish his meaning really quickly -- for example, make it clear that he saved the protag's life when they fought in a war. Otherwise, I think you need to see them spend more time on screen, either in the first 10 minutes, or via flashbacks that we see throughout the story.
                          "I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork.-- Peter De Vries

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Crime-Action instead of Detective Story

                            Originally posted by Yaso View Post
                            I was just told by a colleague: "You are more about backstory than the real story. Bad writing. Turn the backstory into the real story."

                            Right now the plot goes like this:

                            * An old friend visits my hero.
                            * My hero and his friend get shot
                            * The friend dies, but my hero wakes up in the hospital.
                            * My hero drives to his friend's sister. It's a girl he has had an affair with but didn't call back after.
                            * She gives him an adress where he might find the killers ...


                            Does that mean the whole set-up with the friend is flawed? Because right now it creates a HUGE, HUGE pull backwards to the backstory.
                            IN some ways this sounds an awful lot like the opening of BEVERLY HILLS COP.

                            Axel Foley is visited by an old friend. The old friend gets killed. He goes to investigate, meets up with an old friend of his and his late friend, starts investigating -- in the process he turns over some rocks that he shouldn't turn over, gets a lot of push back almost immediately -- and both the investigation and the action proceed at once.

                            The investigation takes him into the domain of the bad guys -- so the deeper he looks, the more dangerous things become, and the because the bad guys are rich and powerful, he finds himself being pushed back not only by the bad guys but also from "up above" -- he quickly loses all official support and he finds himself more or less on his own.

                            This is pretty standard stuff for this kind of thing.

                            Along very different and much darker lines, you've got the first season of TRUE DETECTIVE -- but it's much the same. The investigation draws the Protagonists into dark territory, into confrontations with dangerous bad guys, there's resistance from "up above" so that they have to pursue the investigation on their own.

                            The deeper they go, the more dangerous things get.

                            And in both cases it's on-going. The investigation brings the Protagonist into areas of danger, into contact with desperate and dangerous people, and into conflict with official authority.

                            NMS

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                            • #15
                              Re: Crime-Action instead of Detective Story

                              UpAndComing:

                              A revenge story is always triggered by the experience of extreme violence. The villain physically hurts the hero, a family member or a close friend (if it's in front of the hero, it will always be stronger). The mere fact that the villain causes pain to the hero in this way should be enough to make the hero's motivation clear.

                              In that sense, DJANGO UNCHAINED is not a revenge story, it's a "saving my wife" story. BEVERLY HILLS COP is not a revenge story either. Foley is trying to clear the case, feeling responsible for his friend's death.

                              It's definitely true that I need to establish a deeper connection. I don't like flashbacks, so there has to be something else going on. Let me brainstorm a few solutions

                              nmstevens:

                              You say it yourself: Pretty basic stuff. I want to keep it light-hearted though. No thriller elements. Nothing too dark. The universe this is playing in is definitely more grounded than Naked Gun. It's not a parody, but has some elements of that. Tongue-in-cheek, you could say.

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