Friday, 8 January 2021

Do you want to write a crime story?


"There is evil everywhere under the sun” Agatha Christie.

 Perhaps you have always wanted to write a crime novel. Now is your chance.

 This is the first in a monthly series of posts about writing crime fiction. Let’s start at the very beginning.

 What kind of crime novel do you want to write? There are many forms from which to choose:

·       The cosy, where sometimes you get to eat cake and are given the recipe.

·       The gritty crime novel, which has a hard edge.

·       Noir, which can be scary and gory with no punches pulled.

·       Historical, set in any era from Ancient Egypt to the recent past.

·       Psychological novels, which have a lot of suspense and careful plotting. They major on detailing the innermost workings of the mind of the main character and how the MC concentrates on his/her victims’ weaknesses.

·       Legal novels where the lawyer sometimes does the detecting or aids the police investigation.

 You can choose, within these categories to write a police procedural, with the investigating officer as your main character; or a private detective; or an amateur sleuth who can either be a nuisance to the police or a helping hand. Do you want your story to be utterly serious, humorous or a mix of the two? Some stories mix up forms, so a historical crime can also be a police procedural etc.

 So your first and most important decision is to decide which form of crime novel you want to write. It must suit you, otherwise it’s a non-starter. Don’t write a gritty police procedural if the thought of gory murder scenes turns your stomach or you don’t want to be confined by the strictures under which the police have to work. Likewise, if the thought of a light-hearted, witty amateur sleuth getting in the way of the police puts your teeth on edge, don’t go there. Above all, my advice is that, irrespective of which is the best-selling kind, only write what you want to write. If you try and shoehorn your style to noir if you really want to write a cosy murder set in a teashop with recipes for lemon drizzle cake, you will fall at the first hurdle.

 The crime genre has a slightly different set of needs to other types of genre. You need a crime – usually murder and, usually at least two of those. You will need to plot and plan a little more precisely, although I will deal with allowing yourself off the plotting leash in a later post. You will need a main character. He/she does not have to be the detective. Many successful crime novels have been written with the killer as the main character and the book deals with how the killer does/does not get away with the crime.

 You will need enough suspects to give the reader enough of a puzzle to solve. One of the reasons Agatha Christie was so successful was because she gave the reader so many suspects to consider. Each suspect must have a logical reason why they might want the victim(s) dead. Their motivations must be logical and compelling. Each character must always act “in character”. You will have to learn to “seed” clues and red herrings so that your reader isn’t sure what is going on. The more you can confuse the reader, the more they will love the read. But there is one absolute rule. You must be fair to the reader. You must present all the clues so that, if the reader is able to see through your red herrings and pick them up, they can solve the murder. Hopefully, your red herrings will hide the real clues and that is one of the most enjoyable parts of writing crime.

 Have I whetted your appetite to try your hand at a crime novel? If so, make sure that when you have chosen your particular type of novel, you set about reading as many in your chosen category as you can by different authors. If you are still unsure, here are a few suggestions to kickstart your reading:


·       Cosy – Lynne Florkiewicz: Faith Martin and, may I also suggest my own Georgia Pattison series?

·       Gritty – Stuart MacBride: Ross Greenwood

·       Police Procedurals – Ann Cleeves: Peter Grainger: Michael Hambling: Damien Boyd

·       Noir – Val McDermid: J M Dalgliesh: James Carol

·       Historical – S J Parris: Paul Doherty: Candace Robb

·       Psychological – Angela Marsons: Minette Walters: Phoebe Morgan

·       Legal – Natasha Cooper: John Grisham: Scott Pratt


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  1. Fascinating start to what is likely to prove a very informative series, April. Thanks for doing this.

  2. Looks like the start to an interesting series. Looking forward to more.

  3. An excellent appetite-whetting opener. There’s much to learn and absorb here.


Do you want to write a crime story?

  " There is evil everywhere under the sun ” Agatha Christie.   Perhaps you have always wanted to write a crime novel. Now is your ch...