Skip to main content
Publish date:

The Lure of Domestic Noir

Domestic noir is a growing genre. Given successes such as Paula Hawkin’s GIRL ON A TRAIN and Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL, it appears that regular domestic situations are a fertile breeding ground for suspense thrillers. Everyday dramas play out around the kitchen tables and the bedrooms of family homes. In fact, generally speaking, the more life is presented as "perfect' to the outside world, the more we find very strange goings-on behind closed doors.

Twisted-River-book-cover
Siobhan-MacDonald-author-writer

Column by Siobhán MacDonald, author of TWISTED RIVER
(March 2016, Penguin Books). Siobhán studied in university in
Galway, Ireland. She then worked as a writer for the technology
industry in Scotland, and then in France, before returning to Ireland.
She now lives in Limerick with her husband and two sons. Follow her on Twitter

We only have to look to the bizarre and dubious private behavior of high-profile people in public life to attest to this. Of course, such behavior is not confined only to those in the public eye. Individuals who appear to be normal, professional, respectable, family people can just as easily turn out to be sinister and deviant. Perhaps this is exactly why domestic noir is so powerful. It’s unsettling precisely because it lies darkly somewhere between the creepy and the familiar.

(Literary terms defined -- the uncommon and common.)

My novel, TWISTED RIVER, is a chilling tale of domestic noir that recounts what happens when a seemingly ideal house-swap goes horrendously wrong. In this thriller two families come to an arrangement about swapping homes on either side of the Atlantic, one—a quirky house at Curragower Falls in Limerick, and the other—a smart Manhattan apartment at Riverside Drive, New York. They have never met in person, only on the Internet.

On the surface, the O’Brien and Harvey families are similar. Two professional couples, each with two kids roughly the same age. Both families badly need a holiday as they are going through troubled times. However, as the holiday unfolds, they soon realize that rather than soothe their ills they have unwittingly stepped into the dark spaces the other has left behind.

Image placeholder title

Hook agents, editors and readers immediately.
Check out Les Edgerton's guide, HOOKED, to
learn about how your fiction can pull readers in.

Domestic Noir allows the reader to get under the skin of the characters and to explore what’s going on in their heads—their wants, desires, and motivations. It allows for increased voyeurism. No longer is it enough for this new breed of savvy readers to know who committed the crime, or how they committed it. These readers want to know far more. They want to get involved in the psychology of a crime—why a villain did something as well as how they did it.

It’s fair to say that Domestic Noir draws much of its appeal from characters that are generally engaging. Certainly for me, when characters are flawed, they’re at their most intriguing. Often, the reader is never quite sure who the villain is—perhaps that too is part of its appeal. Readers are allowed to become armchair detectives, solving crimes from afar. They’re allowed to connect with their inner Sherlock Holmes from the comfort of their living rooms or their train commute.

(What does that one word mean? Read definitions of unique & unusual literary words.)

What happens to relationships of ordinary people when they’re put under pressure both from inside and outside relationships makes for engrossing reading. People do strange things and react bizarrely when under pressure. Everyday life can turn on a dime and catastrophic events sometimes happen out of nowhere. Someone can just be in the wrong place at the wrong time, say the wrong thing to the wrong person, or simply make a small mistake that snowballs into something grievous and sinister. Domestic Noir explores these many possibilities and extrapolates on everyday situations that we can all identify with.

------------------

Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers' Conferences:

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 3.39.23 PM

Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more 
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying, 
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you'll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

Matt Bothwell: On Uncovering the Invisible Universe

Matt Bothwell: On Uncovering the Invisible Universe

Dr. Matt Bothwell discusses how his own research and curiosity led him to sharing what he’s learned in his new popular science book, The Invisible Universe.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 590

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a cut poem.

What Writers Should Know About High-End Weddings

What Writers Should Know About High-End Weddings

2022 is seeing the highest number of weddings in almost 40 years. With celebration on the mind, authors Asher Fogle Paul and Mary Hollis Huddleston offer 5 things writers should know about high-end weddings.

Mail's Here!

Mail's Here!

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, you've got mail.

Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson: On the Power of Creative Teamwork

Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson: On the Power of Creative Teamwork

Authors Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson discuss the benefits of working as co-authors and the process of writing the newest Presidential Agent novel, Rogue Asset.

5 Tips for Writing About Big Historical Events in Fiction

5 Tips for Writing About Big Historical Events in Fiction

Novelist Anna Stuart shares her top five tips for writing about big historical events in fiction so that the story stays front and center...and engaging.

Mantel vs. Mantle (Grammar Rules)

Mantel vs. Mantle (Grammar Rules)

This post looks at the differences between mantel and mantle with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.

Agent Advice

Agent Advice: Analieze Cervantes of The Harvey Klinger Literary Agency

Agent Advice (this installment featuring Analieze Cervantes of The Harvey Klinger Literary Agency) is a series of quick interviews with literary agents about their thoughts on writing, publishing, and just about anything else.

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: 4 WDU Courses, an Upcoming Webinar, Submission Deadline for Your Favorite Writing Websites, and More!

This week, we’re excited to announce 4 WDU courses, an upcoming webinar on creating an author website, and more!