Three Reasons Female Writers are Addicted to True Crime

Monday, August 12, 2019
This spot gives me all the creepy feels.

Almost every day I hit the greenway in my neighborhood, earbuds in, for a two to three-mile run/walk. And 85 percent of the time, I have a true-crime podcast playing to help me pass the time. It’s probably not the best choice of entertainment for a solitary workout on a greenway, but I know I’m not alone in my podcast choices. It’s an addiction, an obsession I can’t break. I even attended a writing conference specifically geared toward crime writers at the beginning of August called MurderCon. It was fascinating.

During this conference (where the majority of attendees were women, I’m not gonna lie), we sat in classrooms unflinching as actual bloody crime scene photos played out on the screens in front of us. We heard tales of cases from former F.B.I. and ATF agents, law enforcement officers and forensic anthropologists.

I had my own therapist recently ask me why I thought I was so obsessed with true crime. I couldn’t really explain it to him, other than to say I felt like I’d dodged many unsavory characters throughout the course of my lifetime and I always wonder “what if?” After doing a little more research on this topic, here are three reasons I feel women (and female writers such as Ann Rule) are so fascinated by true crime.

It Teaches Us Situational Self-Awareness
I guess for me, the more I know, the more I can protect myself. When I hear stories of the various situations these crimes happen in, I make a mental note in my head. Each time I’m walking out on that greenway, my eyes are always shifting around me to keep my surroundings in check. I also don’t go out shopping alone at night very often, and if I do, I keep my keys in my hand and my phone in my pocket so there are no distractions.

It Gives Us an Adrenaline Rush
I’ve seen this mentioned in several articles. Hearing about these crimes and the capture of the criminals gives us a rush of adrenaline we can’t say no to. Think about how the runaway success of podcasts such as “Dirty John,” “Dr. Death,” and “Up and Vanished,” or the Investigation Discovery channel and the now re-branded crime-focused Oxygen network. We keep tuning in episode after episode, to hear the startling conclusions, and for me, this rush of adrenaline combined with endorphins from exercise makes for a combination I turn to each and every day.

It Gives Us a Glimpse of the Dark Side of Humanity We Can’t Explain
Bingo. For me, it all goes back to motive. I was listening to a podcast recently called “22 Hours: An American Nightmare,” and I couldn’t wrap my brain around what the convicted killer’s motive would be. I always want to dig deeper, to know why so-called “normal” people do these crazy things, and many writers feel the same way. Many of the short stories I write are based off actual cases and other writers do the same. Gillian Flynn, anyone? She was inspired to write the runaway hit Gone Girl after the Lacey Peterson disappearance.

I don’t think we’re all obsessed with true crime because we secretly harbor maniacal, murderous fantasies. I think the truth lies somewhere in between—we want to learn how to better protect ourselves, understand people better, and . . . of course, receive that addictive rush of adrenaline.

Renee Roberson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor who is one of the biggest true crime addicts you’ll ever meet. She wrote her thriller/suspense story, “The Polaroid,” after studying an unsolved missing persons case from the 1990s.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--"The Polaroid." What a story. I didn't really have time to read it before heading to work, but once I started, I couldn't stop.

Those last two sentences. A perfect ending.

All the podcasts you listen to (and are creating ;) have made you into a masterful crime writer.

Keep listening. (But keep an eye on your surroundings while you listen. ;)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

"The Polaroid" is an amazing story!

I think you are right about why people, women esp., gravitate to true crime. One of the things that children's writers discuss is that scary stories are a safe way for young readers to explore dangerous things. They can read and contemplate and still maintain a distance.

I suspect it is much the same when we read true crime.


Margo Dill said...

I recently listened to my first "true crime" podcast on a road trip with my college roommate from St. Louis to Dallas. She is in the probation and parole career field, so she loves them all. I found it fascinating, too. I also like to study how podcasters structure their episodes and the content. I love that you have been opening our eyes to these too!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Renee, that photo is creepy! It looks like that might be poison oak right in front of it. I've tangled with that before and it's not fun. =/

I'm a huge fan of true crime as well. I used to read all Ann Rule's books, and I even read some seriously twisted stuff like Susan Atkins' memoir (she was part of the Manson family). I think the mystery draws me in, and the way ordinary looking people can be monsters. And using true crime for fictional stories is riveting! I loved "The Polaroid." :)

Sounds like the conference was a blast! Can't wait for your interview. Margo said something in her email today about possibly doing an article on true crime podcasts. I know we'd talked about that possibility. I'll email you! :)

Renee Roberson said...

Sioux--Thanks for giving it a read! I swear I had an adrenaline rush of my own when I was writing that ending. It just kind of poured out of me and then I tweaked the last two lines until I had them the way I wanted them.

Sue--Yes. I always say writing/reading true crime teaches me to be more discerning about people and places.

Margo--There is so much that goes into producing a great podcast, especially these true crime ones! From the opening music, to the background music, to the sound effects, to even the way the sponsors are presented. It's like one of those old-time radio shows with modern technology added in. I enjoy studying it all, too! Check out that "22 Hours" one I mentioned if you haven't already. I have so many questions even after the resolution!

Angela--That greenway is covered in poison oak and ivy. You should have seen me stepping over it to get that picture. It looks even creepier in the winter when all the leaves are off the trees. Susan Atkins' memoir would be an interesting one to read. I am always so fascinated by what goes on in people's heads when they do these crazy things. What drives them? I think the readers are going to love hearing about the inspiration behind the Writers' Police Academy and MurderCon! I could talk all day long about true crime podcasts!

Mary Horner said...

Great story, Renee, I couldn't stop reading it! I haven't listened to any true-crime podcasts, but I'll have to check them out!

Nicole Pyles said...

I am definitely into true crime, especially things like Dateline and 48 Hours, in part because of what you said - situational awareness! In a Criminal Minds episode, one of the characters said (after they found a serial killer had been stalking people staying in roadside motels), "Well roadside motels are on the list." Another character said, "You keep a list?" To which the other one answered,"You don't?"

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