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Writing About Your Crime

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‘How to Murder Your Husband’ Author Sentenced to Life in Prison for Murdering Husband

Someone has committed a crime, a murder usually. For whatever reasons (teasing the investigators, venting, gloating, or just for kicks), the criminal then decides to publish a book where the crime is presented as fiction, usually in minute detail.

Expect the investigators to get a copy of the work by pure chance and quickly deduce that the book is not so fictional and that the writer is also a criminal.

Believe it or not, this has happened in real life.

Compare Copycat Crime, where the criminal bases his crimes on a book rather than vice-versa, and Reminiscing About Your Victims, where the criminal recounts past atrocities in front of another person.

See also I Should Write a Book About This.


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     Film — Animated 
  • In Coco Ernesto de la Cruz in one of his old movies includes a scene that recreates the poisoning of his friend Héctor, only Ernesto is the victim in this case (though in his version, of course, he survives).

     Film — Live Action 
  • Argentinian film Arrebato has writer and professor Luis Vega accused of a murder after publishing a book where a real life crime is described meticulously.
  • This trope is the basis of the film Basic Instinct. When a former rock star is found murdered, suspicion quickly falls on his wild-living author girlfriend Catherine Tramell because he appears to have been killed in the middle of having sex with someone and because years earlier she wrote a crime novel that included a former rock star being killed in exactly the same way. Tramell is quick to point out that it would be foolish to kill someone the same way she wrote about in her book, especially someone connected to her since it would automatically make her the prime suspect, but main character Detective Nick Curran thinks that she's exactly the sort that would get a kick out of trying to outsmart the police despite that sort of heavy suspicion. We don't know whether she's guilty or not until the very last scene of the movie. But even then while it's strongly implied that she's the killer, it isn't explicitly confirmed.
  • In the horror film Cabin by the Lake, a reclusive writer named Stanley Caldwell writes a script for a serial killer movie after he's started kidnapping and murdering women himself by drowning them in a lake.
  • The Frame Story of Kind Hearts and Coronets is a murderer writing his memoirs the night before his execution. He confesses to having got away with several other murders - but happens to be innocent of the one he's actually been convicted for. In the end he's given a last-minute pardon and released... then realises he's left the incriminating memoirs on the desk in his cell.
  • Played with in The Number 23. The protagonist is obsessed with a book that he feels relates to his own life, which is on the surface a novel about a suicide girl and a detective. Turns out he wrote the book while insane and later forgot about it; the female character is a twisted version of a girl he murdered in real life. The "novel" also encodes the place where he left the corpse.
  • Point Of Origin: One of the film's subplots is about John Leonard Orr, the Firefighter Arsonist and Detective Mole Big Bad, writing a novel about the arson spree he is orchestrating with him as the hero. When Orr is eventually arrested, the novel's manuscript is shown as further proof that Orr is driven by a huge ego. As well, his girlfriend reads the manuscript in one scene and discovers that Orr added additional crimes to his fictional arsonist — namely, an extremely Gratuitous Rape that completely unnerves her.
  • Inverted in Secret Window. A man accuses the protagonist of plagiarizing a story about a double murder and the subsequent disposing of the bodies. He ends up realizing the other man doesn't exist and committing the crimes and hiding the bodies exactly as described in the story.
  • The 2016 film True Crimes starring Jim Carrey and Marton Csokas is based on the real-life Krystian Bala case (see below).

  • The Murder of Roger Ackroyd: Dr. Sheppard writes an account of the murder and Poirot's subsequent investigation, leaving out the fact that he himself is the murderer. He is careful to never actually lie in his manuscript, but to just leave out pertinent facts in order to mislead the reader.
  • In the early Nero Wolfe story The League of Frightened Men, Nero Wolfe's interest in the matter begins when Archie, reading news items at random to annoy Wolfe, mentions an author defending one of his books from obscenity charges (which the publisher placed on hold until they're resolved). The writer's defense was that he had committed a murder and written the book as his confession with any obscenity incidental (which got him a contempt of court charge when he insisted the judge had no right to dismiss this as a joke). Wolfe mentions to Archie that during the latter's recent and extended absence, he had met with and turned down a potential client who felt his associates were being murdered and his own life was in danger from a man he refused to name. Wolfe notes that the man he met had repeatedly used phrases from this author's last known work, and in fact had almost accidentally spoken the author's first name at one point, concluding the coincidence is worth following up on. Before doing so, Wolfe then receives a phone call from the daughter of the now-missing man...
    • Subverted in the end by Wolfe's conclusion from the author's writing he has a raging Inferiority Superiority Complex and simply can't resist any opportunity to appear as a cunning and deranged killer. That several other involved parties for varying reasons are either encouraging this appearance or attempting to assist the author in getting away with his mostly nonexistent crimes help to confuse the issue.
  • The Overstory: Douglas writes a long journal of sorts of everything that happened when he was an environmental activist (though he refers to his allies by their code names), including their arson and accidentally getting Olivia killed. Though he never intends to publish it, it gets discovered by a visitor to his house, leading the police to quickly figure out that he is describing real-life events and try to determine just what the real names of the other three people involved were.
  • Inverted in Stephen King's Secret Window, Secret Garden. A man accuses the protagonist of plagiarizing a story about a double murder and the subsequent disposing of the bodies. He ends up realizing the other man doesn't exist and attempting to commit the crimes and hiding the bodies exactly as described in the story. He does it in the movie version.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Parodied in an episode of Blackadder when a pair of uptight actors decide to do a readthrough of their new play while waiting for their host, Prince George, to return—"The Bloody Murder of the Foul Prince Romero and his Enormous-Bosomed Wife". Baldrick quickly draws the wrong conclusion. Blackadder knows that it's a coincidence but has them arrested and sent to the gallows anyway because they kept insulting him earlier.
    Actors: But it was a play, sir, a play! Look, all the words you see written down on that page!
    Blackadder: Textbook stuff again, you see. The criminals' vanity always makes them make one tiny, but fatal, mistake. Theirs was to have their entire conspiracy printed and published in play manuscript!
  • The Castle episode "Ghosts" has the team discover that the Body of the Week, a fugitive ecoterrorist, was having a True Crime author ghost-write a tell-all about the bombing of an oil tanker in the Seventies. They theorize she was trying to manipulate public opinion ahead of surrendering herself for trial.
    • "Boom!" reveals that the true culprit of the case is writing about his crimes as fiction, with his latest target being Kate Beckett, who he sees as Castle's latest detective character Nikki Heat. Agent Jordan Shaw posits that this is a symptom of his psychosis; writing about his crimes is like taking a hunting trophy, immortalizing his act, and distancing himself from it by turning it into fiction.
  • The Diagnosis: Murder episode "Write, She Murdered" has mystery author Kay Ludlow murder her agent in order to break her Writer's Block and complete her latest novel. She intends to have Mark "solve" the crime for inspiration.
  • A Key & Peele sketch has a rapper being interrogated by a cop about committing murder and denying he did it despite writing an entire song that talks about how he committed the murder.

    Video Games 
  • A variant in Baldur's Gate III. One book you can find is a play about a man who sells his soul to a devil. Another book is an interview with that same author, who the interviewer figured out had... sold his soul. To make his play a success, no less.
    Did you honestly trade your soul for an erotic play?
  • Subverted in Paper Mario 64. The penguins think this is the case with Herringway's novels when he seems to have killed the mayor of Shiver City, but it turns out to be a coincidence and the mayor isn't even dead, just out cold from a bump on the head.
  • In Resident Evil: Gun Survivor one of the files you can recover is the diary belonging to Vincent Goldman, commander of the Umbrella Sheena Island, where he brags about how he had innocent captives lobotomized alive for the DNA in their brains to create Tyrants and during a mass prison escape, how he had every recaptured prisoner shot.

  • In pictures for sad children, a serial killer discovers that he's the subject of a media firestorm, so he takes advantage by writing a book about his killings. A non-fiction, self-help book, encouraging readers to follow in his footsteps. The media thinks he just wrote it as an elaborate prank, but he's quick to point out that he's completely serious.

     Real Life 
  • There are laws written to prevent criminals, especially murderers, from profiting off media about their crimes, even if they don't directly write it.
  • Polish writer Krystian Bala was convicted after the police found very specific details of a recent crime in a novel he had published. The victim had dated his ex-wife.
  • Subverted (maybe) in the case of O. J. Simpson, who published If I Did It as a "purely hypothetical" account of the crime by which he was tried and acquitted. The publisher considered the book was "his confession".
  • This is Truth in Television for social media. There have been many cases where a person or a group of people have committed a crime and wrote about it on social media, even going so far as to show a video of themselves in the act. Needless to say, they usually get caught.
  • Liu Yongbiao is another example, he and his accomplice murdered four people in 1995, because of a failed robbery, and in the next two decades he became a moderately famous police writer, and in the prologue of one of his novels he described his intention to write a story about a writer who commits a series of murders and is never captured.
  • John Leonard Orr was a firefighter who was secretly an arsonist. Before he was caught, he wrote a novel called Points of Origin about a firefighter who is secretly an arsonist.
  • Romance author Nancy Crampton Brophy once wrote an online essay entitled "How To Murder Your Husband", and was later arrested and convicted for... yep, you guessed it. note