Gabrielle Zevin on the 7 Ingredients Needed for Writing Organized Crime

Gabrielle Zevin knows a thing or two about how to write a novel about  organized crime. Her Birthright series is the story of Anya Balanchine, daughter of a notorious (and dead) crime boss, who is struggling to stay on the straight and narrow. Because It Is My Blood takes place in the near future (2083) in a bleak world where crime is rampant and chocolate and coffee are illegal. 

Gabrielle has stopped by Figment to share the ingredients she thinks are necessary to write a successful organized crime story. Check out her list below. And drop us a line in the comments if you think something is missing!


1. Broken Hearts—Characters who make their money in organized crime rarely, if ever, get the girl. And in my series—foreshadowing!—vice versa. (See The Great Gatsby, The Godfather Part III, Goodfellas)



2. Poetic Kills—Violence in a great organized crime story is never just violence. It’s poetry, dude. People shouldn’t die of bullet wounds; they should die of character flaws. (See Pulp Fiction, Ichi the Killer, The Departed.)



3. AngstKilling is hard on one’s soul, and it can seriously make you depressed. In The Sopranos, Tony spends as much time in therapy as he does offing people. (See also In Bruges.)




4. Gorgeous wives—The more beautiful the gangster’s wife, the more unhappy the marriage. I’m obsessed with Ginger’s (Sharon Stone) costumes in Casino: go-go boots, lace mini-dresses, scary-looking furs. (See also Blow.)



5. Memorable Scores—I defy you to listen to Nino Rota’s score for the Godfather movies and not write a book—nay an entire series—about organized crime. Personally, I’m like Pavlov’s dog with this score. Hum a little, and I’ll write you 100,000 words. (See also Miller’s Crossing.)



6. Unusual Sociopaths—The most successful sociopaths don’t always look or act like sociopaths. In Breaking Bad, drug kingpin Gustavo Fring is a great character because he is the opposite of the cliché of a flashy gangster. He wears short sleeve dress shirts to work, you know?


7. Wonky Accents—Wonky accents are the number one secret ingredient to all organized crime characters. In Eastern Promises, the accent is wonky Ukrainian, which is my favorite kind of Ukrainian. (see also Sexy Beast, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, Scarface, The Godfather, and just about every mobster movie ever made!)

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