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Tips for Crime Writers

I write crime fiction novels and here I want to share a few tips about writing crime with my fellow authors. Let's start at the very beginning.

The Crime

▪A crime story revolves around a crime being committed. Whatever the crime is, you must ensure that it is sufficiently serious and interesting that it carries the story all the way to the end.

▪Crime novels are often written around a murder or a series of murders because this is the most serious crime.

▪But what other crimes could you use as a cause for murder?

Drugs Trafficking/Pushing



Sex Offences



Firearms Offences


The Investigator

▪This is likely to be your main character and your readers need to warm to them and want them to succeed.

▪It does not have to be a professional policeman or detective – so who will your investigator be? There are many well known choices throughout literature.

Police Detective – DCI Banks (Peter Robinson)

▪Private Investigator – Sherlock Holmes (Arthur Conan Doyle)

▪Medic – Kay Scarpetta (Patricia Cornwell)

Spy – George Smiley (John le Carre)

▪Lawyer – Perry Mason (Erle Stanley Gardner)

▪Nosy Neighbour – Miss Jane Marple (Agatha Christie)

The Victim

▪Whoever the victim is, to have a successful crime novel, the reader needs to care about them.

▪They must feel concern that the crime has been committed against your victim.

▪They must want the investigator to succeed and justice to be done.

▪Readers enjoy novels that are character driven – i.e. the story revolves around interesting people rather than the people reacting to the circumstances they face. This is true of every genre, not just crime fiction.

Strong Opening

▪ Your book must start with a hook, to catch the reader's interest and make them want to keep reading to find out what happens next. To accomplish this start with action.

It was a rainy day in February and he was sure it would rain again tomorrow. This is an opening which will not work!

▪It is boring and your reader has already put the book back on the shelf.

He lost control of the bike because the road was slippery. The car behind him couldn’t stop. When he hit the windscreen he couldn’t believe what he saw. This will work! We’ve hooked our reader.

–What did he see?

–Who did he see?

–Why does it matter?

Plotting and Setting

▪By now you have some idea of how you want to proceed.

–Police Procedural?

–Gripping Thriller?

–Historical Detective Story?

▪And your setting -

- Your home town?

- An exotic location?

- 1000 years in the future?

Point of View

Which point of view are you going to use to tell the story?

▪First person

▪Second person

▪Third person

▪Multiple third person

▪Omniscient third person narrator

There are advantages and disadvantages to each of these, so only you can decide which will work best for the story you want to tell.

Ask Questions

When I come to an impasse and don't know exactly how to tell my tale, I ask questions. The reader doesn't always become aware of these, but that's what I do, and usually mycharacters work out the missing bit of the plot for me.

▪My characters talk me. If I want to know something about them, I ask them!

▪What is their major trait?

▪Could it lead to trouble?

▪What is their reaction to others?

▪What do they like/hate?

Questions that reveal a character’s underlying attitude to life are excellent for allowing you to understand them.

▪Once you know your character you’ll find you can write them up.

▪You will be able to imagine what their journey through the story will be like.

▪They may still surprise you, but those surprises will fit in with the traits you’ve discovered and make for a more rounded story.

▪I often get surprises when I am asking questions of my main characters – then I wonder what I can do with the information.

▪I usually come up with something – and you will too.


▪Problems and jeopardy should be sprinkled through the book. The level of jeopardy must increase as you move towards the denoument. Jeopardy must be faced by the investigator as well as the criminal.

▪Problems the investigator faces need to be sprinkled through the story (and resolved) to create a satisfying ending.

▪If your character’s personal life is dealt with in the story, there will be life changes and jeopardies to be resolved there too.

Action and Suspense

▪In a crime novel the reader knows there will be a redemption or a resolution at the end. On the way there will be suffering, pain, grief and dreadful loss.

▪The tension will only be real and terrible if the reader has been made to care about the characters.

▪When the reader cares about the characters you will have suspense from page one.

Creating suspense requires you as the writer to create a series of situations of which the outcome is in doubt.

▪The reader knows the pain coming but the job of the writer is to switch between action which enthrals the reader and suspense which keeps them guessing as to when or on whom the troubles will fall.

▪While action scenes excite your readers and grab their attention, suspense also provides a satisfactory emotion.

▪Action is about something dangerous or frightening happening. Your reader feels like they are in the thick of it. With suspense the emotion comes from the anticipation that something might happen.

Plot - v - Story

▪Crime fiction depends upon relatable characters and a strong plot.

▪The difference between the plot and the story is that the story is the end product – the plot is the machinery at the core which drives the story forward.

▪The plot is the sequence of events given chronologically or causally in which the story’s characters are involved.

▪Plot is to story as skeleton is to mammal. It is what prevents the organism from collapsing into a fleshy puddle.

▪The story is the entirety. It is the wider meaning that is woven out of the plot and characters, mood and setting, crime and intent.

▪To create a story you can plot: From beginning to end – Know the end and create the story that leads you there – Borrow from a third source e.g. Shakespeare, yesterday’s news - Or fly by the seat of your pants and make it up as you go along!

The End

You know you’ve nailed your crime fiction novel if you’ve answered the big questions you posed for the reader throughout your story. Questions throughout the book will keep the reader turning the pages but leaving big questions unanswered will irritate the readers.

  • The main character (investigator) is active at the climax. The readers have spent the whole book with your main character and, if you’ve done a good job as a writer, they are attached to them and want to see them win.

  • You’ve saved the highest stakes until last. Stakes drive your story forward and should build towards one big stake that will make or break the main character. Keep whatever that is to the end and bring it to a head so that it can be resolved.

  • All of the character problems have been addressed. Sprinkling problems through your book works well but they need to be resolved to create a satisfying end.

  • Relationships between the characters have been resolved. Relationships between your characters should change and evolve to keep the story interesting. Make the difference obvious from start to finish.

  • You haven’t started anything new. Your book should resolve or at least hint at the fate of everything you have covered. There should be no new story threads. On the closing page you want the readers to be at peace with your ending - whether happy or sad.

  • The resolution isn’t too short. Your final resolution shouldn’t drive on for ten chapters, but equally you shouldn’t tie it up in one page. Your readers have been on a journey with you and want a satisfactory conclusion.

And with that, you should have written a satisfying Crime fiction novel. Good luck - and do let me know how you get on!

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