Consultant Corner: Jennifer Dornbush on Writing Crime Stories

by Angela Bourassa (@angelabourassa1)

Jennifer Dornbush is a speaker, forensic specialist, and writer who helps other storytellers create high stakes, entertaining crime dramas while also employing current, authentic, and realistic forensic methods. She teaches seminars and speaks on writing crime fiction for screen and novel, surviving and thriving the artist’s life, the novelization process of scripts, crime scene science, forensic fundamentals, and death investigation. With so much interest in shows and films related to crime, Jennifer is the go-to person for criminally-minded creatives.

LA Screenwriter’s Angela Bourassa recently spoke to Jennifer about writing crime stories.

Angela Bourassa: It seems like there are endless cop shows and movies about crime and the people who investigate those crimes. Why are criminal stories so successful?

Jennifer Dornbush: Many reasons, but I think the top four reasons this is such a stable, time-tested genre are:

1) Because our daily lives are full of mystery and problems we can’t solve. We want to enter into a world, even for just a little while, where problems are solved and where the bad guys get taken away.

2) Because we are puzzle solvers and like to feel we’ve accomplished something.

3) Because you know where you have to get to at the end of a crime drama. You know what to expect. It’s a formula.  At the end you know it’s going to be okay. It’s a safe, clear paradigm.

4) Because wrongs are righted, justice is served, and chaos is ordered. The world is put back together.

[eiACE has a new webinar on TODAY featuring top consultants Jen Grisanti, Lee Jessup, David Misch, Jennifer Van Sijll, and Dan Calvisi. Use the code EIACEORG when you sign up for $10 off! Learn more here.]

Angela Bourassa: With so much competition, how can a writer make their crime story stand apart from the crowd?

Jennifer Dornbush: Character. Character. Character. There are no new crimes under the sun. Crime, murder, and all such depravity has been exploited since Cain and Abel. My goodness, just take a read of the Bible and you’ll see that we’re not creating anything new “crime-wise.” There’s some really sick crime in the Bible. However, as storytellers we can always create new and interesting characters, because every human being is unique and original. And after all, that’s why we watch these shows… to get into the lives of characters.

Angela Bourassa: How important is research to telling a good crime story and crafting a unique protagonist and (perhaps even more importantly) a compelling antagonist?

Jennifer Dornbush: Research embellishes the imagination. Research deepens story and characters. Research makes your writing more authentic. And, most importantly, it makes your story stand out. Research should be meshed seamlessly into your story. It shouldn’t stand out.

Angela Bourassa: We’ve seen all sorts of stories about murder and theft on the big and small screens. What are some areas of criminal law that you think would work well on screen but have been underutilized by writers?

Jennifer Dornbush: Off the top of my head… digital forensics. This is a HUGE new field and could be explored more on screen and in characters. Finding a way to make it sexy and active is the challenge.

Learn more about Jennifer and her services at Jennifer is a member of eiACE.


Angela Bourassa is the founder and Editor in Chief of LA Screenwriter.

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