• Features for Creative Writers
  • Features for Work
  • Features for Higher Education
  • Features for Teachers
  • Features for Non-Native Speakers
  • Learn Blog Grammar Guide Community Academy FAQ
  • Grammar Guide

How to Write a Mystery or Crime Novel: 8 Tips for Writing Crime Fiction

Krystal Craiker headshot

Krystal N. Craiker

How to write a crime novel title

Crime fiction is a leading genre, and readers love the intrigue and suspense of a good mystery.

But writing crime fiction can be daunting. You must leave clues, create captivating characters, build tension, and have a believable villain and crime.

Today, we're giving you our top eight tips on how to write a crime novel.

What Is Crime Writing?

What is mystery writing, 8 tips for writing mystery or crime fiction.

Crime writing is a genre of fiction in which the main plot conflict revolves around a crime.

Crime fiction encompasses many subgenres, including police procedurals, psychological thrillers, and cozy mysteries.

The difference between subgenres depends on the level of violence described, setting, and types of characters, but they all have crime as the driving force.

Types of crime novels

There are three types of mysteries within the crime genre:

  • Whodunits are traditional mysteries in which the perpetrator is hidden until the end. Think Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie.
  • Howdunits focus on the "how" of the crime. These are police procedurals and detective stories where the protagonist tracks down the perpetrator. Famous writers in this subgenre are Joseph Wambaugh and Michael Connelly.
  • Whydunits focus on the motivation of the perpetrator. This genre shifts the focus from law enforcement to the criminal, who functions as the protagonist. Examples are Mario Puzo’s The Godfather and many of Elmore Leonard’s criminal novel depictions.

The mystery genre is, for all intents and purposes, synonymous with crime fiction. Mystery is a major component of any crime story.

It is possible to have a mystery novel that does not involve a crime, such as uncovering a secret identity, but these are very rare.

Other genres may include a mystery as a secondary plot, but that doesn't make them part of the crime genre. The mystery must be the main plotline in order to be classified as a mystery or crime novel.

8 tips for writing crime novels

There are many elements to consider when writing crime fiction, so we've broken down the most important steps into eight easy tips.

1. Choose Your Crime

Crime novels feature a variety of crimes, which keeps the genre fresh and exciting.

You could go with a classic murder mystery or serial-killer story. There are heists, organized crime, kidnappings, blackmail, extortion, trafficking, and more.

First, choose your crime. As this is the primary source of conflict in your book, it's important to have the crime first and foremost in your planning.

Once you decide what type of crime your novel is about, plan more of the details. Where did the crime take place? Who was the victim?

You should consider whether it's a locked-room mystery, where the crime seemed impossible to commit, or whether there are multiple leads for your protagonist to follow.

Types of crime novels

2. Profile Your Villain

Police and other agencies often have criminal profilers. They create a profile for likely demographics, upbringings, and motivations. For your novel, you must become the profiler.

It's important to plan your villain(s) in a crime novel well. The mystery is only as interesting as the character committing the crime. But you must do so in a way that makes sense.

If your villain is pure evil, it can be hard to "humanize" them and make them feel real. If you go down the route of the twisted psychopath, they must have intriguing features to draw readers in.

Maybe there's an extra disturbing element to the crime scene, or maybe they play mind games with the detective.

But most criminals aren't evil, they are human. In fiction, this makes them just as interesting because readers like to see relatable elements, even in a villain.

Start with your villain's motives, then work backward. Ask yourself, why did they commit this particular crime? Give them a solid backstory and plenty of character flaws and character strengths.

Mystery writing tip 1

3. Know Your Characters Inside and Out

Crime stories must have interesting characters besides the villain, too. In a mystery, the protagonist is the main character in the investigation.

They might be in law enforcement, a private investigator, or even an amateur detective.

The protagonist must have a strong motivation for wanting to solve the case. They will also need some internal conflict that holds them back or causes them to slip up during the story. Overcoming this internal conflict is important for a good character arc .

There should also be a cast of compelling characters who support the protagonist. Understanding how each of them connects to the mystery will help guide you as you plan conflicts and subplots.

Some subgenres have expected character archetypes. For example, cozy mysteries feature amateur sleuths and quirky side characters.

Most hard-boiled mysteries with a law enforcement protagonist feature a demanding superior officer and a nerdy scientist.

4. Research for a Realistic Crime

The details of criminal activity fascinate readers who love crime novels. They expect a crime novel to feel realistic. Researching the type of crime in the story is especially important for mystery writers.

The internet is a great starting point, but there are many other ways to find answers to those hard-to-search questions. Here are some other places you can find research material:

  • Detective memoirs
  • Specialty social media groups or accounts, like "Trauma Fiction" on Facebook
  • News stories of similar crimes
  • Interviews with experts
  • True-crime documentaries

You can also find a research librarian at your local library to help you find great sources.

The more details you know about the crime in your novel, the more realistic your writing will be, even if they don't all make it into the final draft.

5. Decide on Your Sub-Plots

Mystery writing tip 2

Mysteries are exciting, but they are just one external conflict in a story. A crime novel should have subplots that help drive the story along.

Romance is a common subplot in crime fiction. Family issues, career turning points, or a nemesis colleague can also form smaller conflicts and subplots.

Get creative and find subplots that match your genre but also feel fresh and exciting.

You'll also need a strong internal conflict , as we mentioned previously. Your protagonist needs to undergo character growth in the story so readers feel connected.

Your external conflicts do not necessarily need to be tied to the crime, but the mystery should drive your protagonist's character arc .

The case should teach them something or force them to overcome something.

6. Plan Your Clues

No mystery is complete without really great clues. But throwing in random clues as you write can feel inauthentic and trite.

It's a good idea to spend some time planning your clues before you start writing—even if you aren't much of a plotter .

Once you have researched the crime and know everything about how it happens in your book, you will have plenty of fodder for clues.

Start at the beginning. What clues will be immediately revealed to the detective or sleuth?

These are clues that are present at the scene of the crime, like suspects, blood splatter, broken locks, and dropped belongings.

Then plan the clues your protagonist will discover as the story goes on. They might come from forensic analysis or lab information.

Clues will also appear as your protagonist interviews witnesses and suspects, or as they dig into the victim's back story.

You should also plan a final clue that makes everything "click" for the protagonist. This is the last piece of the puzzle to discover the who/why/how of the crime.

7. Build Tension with Plot Twists

One of the best parts of crime fiction is the plot twist. Plot twists keep readers guessing. It can feel disappointing if the story unfolds in a way that is too easy to figure out.

Plot twists also build tension. Sometimes this tension will come in the form of your protagonist being certain of a lead, only to have it result in a dead end.

Other times, the usual suspects are ruled out, only to be brought back in as suspects at the end.

Red herrings are a common but exciting way to add tension to a mystery.

A red herring is a clue that is placed in a story to mislead or distract the readers. Adding multiple red herrings will make readers even more surprised when the truth comes out.

Avoid the deus ex machina , however.

This is an easy solution to the crime that appears out of nowhere. It does the opposite of building tension and feels clichéd.

The definition of a deus ex machine

8. Outline Your Story

It's a good idea to have a basic outline before you start writing because there are so many important details in a crime novel.

One outline method you can use is to modify the Hero's Journey . Here are what the stages of your story would look like:

  • Establish the detective and crime.
  • Set up the story.
  • Show reluctance of the protagonist.
  • First attempt to solve the case.
  • Establish facts and create urgency.
  • Broaden the scope of the crime and investigation.
  • Deepen the detective’s backstory.
  • Establish the big change where the detective realizes they're on the wrong track.
  • Reveal the criminal’s motive.
  • Find the mistake or missing piece of the investigation.
  • Solve the crime.

Outlining your crime novel

You can also use other plotting methods like a Save the Cat! beat sheet, a Story Circle, or the snowflake method.

Be sure to include the clues that you planned in your outline. This will help them feel logical to the story and serve the overall mystery.

Writing crime fiction doesn't have to be overwhelming. With solid research and deliberate planning, you can write the next great mystery novel.

Writing crime? Join us for Crime Writers' Week: June 20 - 23, 2022

Unlock the secrets for writing, editing, and publishing a crime story at this weeklong free online summit. Connect with thousands of other crime writers while learning how to develop, write, edit, and publish a show-stopping crime novel.

Sign up for free now

Crime writers' week details

Be confident about grammar

Check every email, essay, or story for grammar mistakes. Fix them before you press send.

Krystal N. Craiker is the Writing Pirate, an indie romance author and blog manager at ProWritingAid. She sails the seven internet seas, breaking tropes and bending genres. She has a background in anthropology and education, which brings fresh perspectives to her romance novels. When she’s not daydreaming about her next book or article, you can find her cooking gourmet gluten-free cuisine, laughing at memes, and playing board games. Krystal lives in Dallas, Texas with her husband, child, and basset hound.

Get started with ProWritingAid

Drop us a line or let's stay in touch via :

  • Skip to main content
  • Skip to primary sidebar

Writing Tips Oasis

Writing Tips Oasis

How to Write Crime Fiction: A Beginner’s Guide

By Georgina Roy

how to write crime fiction

Welcome to Writing Tips Oasis and our newest guide – this time around, on Crime Fiction.

Crime Fiction as a genre is often confused or mixed up with other genres or its own subgenres/categories, like mysteries, which we will talk about later. The Crime genre is an umbrella that entails everything that is related to a crime: from mysteries to thrillers, although in thrillers, the crime is often ongoing, while in crime fiction , the crime is already perpetrated and the protagonist is looking for the perpetrator. For that reason, we will look at thriller as a separate genre that crosses with crime, rather than as a part of the crime genre as a whole.

On the whole, we will divide this guide in three parts. In the first part, we will focus on the crime itself, because that will define the category (or subgenre) of your novel. The second part will focus on the plot of a crime fiction novel, and the third part will focus on how to build a crime puzzle.

Without further delay, let’s move on to the first part and try to tackle the task of writing a crime fiction novel.

Table of Contents

Part One: The Crime

1. what crime fiction encompasses, 2. choosing the crime, 3. crime fiction categories, part two: building the crime plot, 1. choosing a protagonist, 2. creating the world, 3. portraying secondary characters, 4. creating ambiance and mood, 5. balancing plot and character, 6. twists and resolutions, part three: building the crime puzzle, 1. how to create a crime puzzle, 2. usage of unreliable narrators, 3. using foreshadowing, 4. creating the usual suspects cast, 5. red herrings and chekov’s guns, 6. avoiding clichés, 7. avoiding plot traps.

how to write a crime novel

The crime is the most important element of a good crime fiction novel. Although, it’s worth noting that the crime, in this case, comes after compelling plot and characters, which are necessary for any kind of novel. The crime in a crime fiction novel, however, needs to provide two things:

  • interest in the readers as to how it was done;
  • interest in a compelling protagonist who will solve the mystery for the readers.

Here is the thing, you can have a compelling protagonist and interesting characters (upon which we will talk extensively in the second part of this guide), but unless you have an extraordinary crime, you are not giving your protagonist and characters anything to work with. For that reason, let’s start by distilling all the separate elements of crime fiction novels before we move on to creating one.

The list of what a crime fiction novel needs, or what the crime fiction in general encompasses, can be way too long. For that reason, let’s begin by analyzing what a crime fiction novel provides for the readers.

First, we mentioned the compelling protagonist and interesting characters. The compelling protagonist is usually a detective/investigator/agent in a secret/clandestine organization, usually a government institution, and in legal organizations like PI agencies or various different police departments. That means your protagonist will be the readers eyes and ears (and emotions) in the legal process.

The interesting characters fall into different categories. First category is victim/eyewitness, the second is the bad guys (or just one bad guy) among many suspects, all of which need to have motive to perpetrate the crime, the means to do it, and finally, alibis or lack of them, which leads to the protagonist investigating these people in order to find out what happened. The thing about these characters is that they become the readers’ mediums for experiencing what it’s like to be an eyewitness or to be a suspect in a crime (and as much as we like to say that the world has become a horrible place, most people don’t actually want to be eyewitnesses or suspects in a crime. For this reason, crime fiction along with romance are among the best-selling genres in the world – they provide escapism for the readers in realms that they don’t particularly want to visit).

Third is the crime itself. Here is the thing: a crime that is easily solved by the protagonist will be even more easily solved by your readers, most of which will be crime fiction fans, and if you write in a crime that can be easily solved, the readers will lose interest.

Next in line are ambiance, setting, worldbuilding, and the way that you handle them need to fall in line with the story you want to tell.

And by choosing the crime, we don’t really mean decide if your novel is going to revolve around a murder or a theft, for example. Nor do we mean decide if the protagonist is going to be a man or a woman. What we mean is the crime as a whole: what (murder, theft, kidnapping, etc.) it is, who did it, who will investigate it, and how will they go about it. These three things will decide in which crime category (or subgenre) your story will belong in. And these categories have their own markers that the readers will expect, and knowing that gives you, as a writer, the chance to subvert their expectations and surprise them.

Moreover it will keep you from making rookie mistakes, like for example, having a spunky 22-year-old private eye investigate someone’s murder instead of a detective, going to morgues and other places, investigate witnesses and so forth. A private eye will never have the authority to investigate someone’s murder. When private eyes are hired to investigate someone’s murder, it means that the police have closed the case and have been unable to solve it, or have locked up an innocent man or a woman as the perpetrator. However, a private eye would not investigate the murder right after it happened. Unless the private eye is closely related to the victim, which would give her a personal motive.

And so forth. A spunky 22-year-old female private eye as the protagonist will shoot your novel straight into the chick-lit crime mystery pile, or the cozy mystery. On the other hand, make the woman a little older, late twenties, for example, and make her a legit investigator, and then you have a crime novel that would belong in a different subgenre, like legal or police.

In conclusion, the category your story will belong in will ultimately be decided by your story itself. Deciding on a category before starting to write your will enable you to:

  • read other novels in the same/similar subgenre, enabling you to know the most common expectations and plots;
  • outline your novel, so you do not end up involving psychics to give your protagonist clues to the antagonist;
  • find ways to subvert known clichés and tropes and storylines.

Let’s take a look at the most common categories or subgenres of crime fiction and their expectations and common themes.

There are many different subgenres or categories when it comes to crime fiction. Some of these are more prolific than the others. For example, we can look at mystery as a separate genre, as well as detective, and thriller as well. All of these, however, involve two things: crime and the legal system, and protagonists who need to solve the case, no matter what.

The mystery genre is easy to describe. Everything starts with the perpetration of a crime: someone has been murdered, or something has been stolen. A good mystery will involve both, for example. Then, the investigator comes along and begins to investigate the crime. Your job as the writer here is to throw hurdles and obstacles at the protagonist, even go as far as to make it personal for the protagonist to solve the case to provide more motivation. In addition, you need a cast of the usual suspects, and the more unusual you can make them, the better. The faker their alibis, the better. However, be careful not to make everyone fake their alibis just for the sake of it. Red herrings are fine as long as they do pay off in some way. Keep the readers engaged by creating a mystery that seems impossible to solve at a first glance.

One of the best things about the crime fiction genre is the possible overlap within its categories, as well as the possible mixing of crime with different genres. A detective crime fiction novel always features a detective who is most often investigating a homicide. Along the way he has to go through many obstacles in order to get to the truth, and if he is dealing with a serial killer/a ring of organized crime, the bodies will continue to drop. And even the seemingly natural death of the victim’s neighbor turns out to be a murder. There are two things to be careful of: if there are too many murders and victims, your readers might get lost in the details. Second, if the murder is too complicated to be solved, you might fall into the deus-ex-machina trap. In addition, you don’t want to make the murder too simple – that would make your detective not up to his job.

  • Thriller (as cross-genre)

A good example of a thriller and crime fiction mix is a novel that revolves, for example, around a kidnapping. The reason why we’re looking a thriller novel as a separate genre is because usually, a thriller novel happens while the crime is being committed. It’s a conflict between the villain and the victim, and, if the victim loses, that’s when the legal department becomes involved. That fact, by default, separates the crime genre and the thriller genre.

However, for example, if the police are involved and trying to prevent a serial killer from committing another murder, and if the novel also focuses on the serial killer’s next victim to be (who he probably has already kidnapped), then you have a novel that is both crime and thriller.

Police procedural fiction novels revolve around a police department that’s trying to solve a crime. Usually, you have the cast of a detective (who may or may not have a partner, who may or may not be a sidekick), a couple of forensics and at least one pathologist, and maybe even additional lab people like a toxicologist, etc. The crime and the perpetrator are usually shown in a prologue, and the readers follow the story of the police department solving the crime. Police procedural fiction allows a glimpse into the world of the police and the story is more about how to catch the murderer through evidence and investigation.

Legal crime fiction novels are a specific subgenre of crime novels. They still involve the same elements of crime fiction: a crime has been committed, and an organization is involved in solving that crime. This time, that organization is the legal department. This means that the action is all in the court room, and usually, the conflict revolves around a lawyer trying to prove that the accused is innocent of the crime, sometimes to the extent of solving the mystery and finding the real murderer, putting himself or herself and their close friends or coworkers in danger.

  • Locked room

Again, there are many overlaps in crime fiction categories, and the locked room mystery is one of them. It can overlap easily with all the other subgenres. All it needs is to have a crime committed in a locked room (though not necessarily an empty one). This means that the perpetrator could not have easily come and gone from the scene of the crime. What really sets this subgenre apart is the impossibility of the crime. They almost always revolve around a murder, and the readers are presented with the same puzzle – the locked room – as the detective. The puzzle is what entices the readers to read more, hence the major overlap with other subcategories, from detective to legal to cozy mysteries.

  • Cozy mystery

What sets the cozies – or cozy mysteries – apart is the setting and the ambiance. The violence is toned down, and the murders are usually through poisons or other means, and the motive is almost always personal. Another element that sets them apart is the protagonist, who in this case can be anyone within a community. Usually, the cozies are set in small towns in scenic locations, where the ambiance plays just as big of a role as the characters themselves. The protagonist is usually in a position to solve the mystery: a sheriff, a librarian, a doctor – someone who will have a lot of contact with almost all of the people in the community.

Whodunit refers to the subgenre of crime fiction where the plot revolves solely around discovering who murdered someone. As with other categories, the protagonist is the detective who is investigating the crime, and the usual suspects are making difficult to tell, well, whodunit.

There are other categories of crime fiction. Chick-lit mysteries, where the protagonist is a female, hardboiled crime fiction, where a cop in the Prohibition era has to deal with both the crime gangs and the crooked crime system, the caper crime fiction, where it’s more about committing a petty crime (theft) and getting away with it, and many other categories.

writing crime fiction

Many different writers define plot in different ways: we all know it when a novel has a tight plot, and when the plot is not right, all readers know it. Here is the thing – plot is what your story depends on. You can think of plotting a novel as putting all elements of one story into a linear grid and knowing which event of the plot happens when in the novel. You can have a good story, but if you don’t put each element of it in its proper place in the grid, you have a jumbled novel with a very loose plot.

A well balanced structure will have three acts: the exposition, or act 1, which is the beginning of your novel. During this part, your protagonist needs to be introduced to the problem. In the case of crime novels, regardless of category, the problem will always be a certain crime – murder, theft, both, or something else. You have created a situation – a problem, and now the protagonist has to solve it.

In the real world, whenever we face a problem, we go for the easiest solution. It’s human nature to take the shortest path to solve a problem. When your protagonist decides to go for the easiest solution to the crime leads you to the first plot point – where the easiest solution to the problem – the easiest explanation for the crime – is actually not right.

However, not all is lost, for the protagonist – be it a detective, an investigator, a private eye – will have other clues to follow. The continued investigation in the case is what will make up the second act of your novel. The second act is very important because here you will present the readers with two things: one, what your novel is really about, and how the protagonist managed to solve the crime and discover who did it. Often, the closer the protagonist is to the truth, the more in danger he or she will be (or their loved ones, like friends and family). Someone – usually the villain, or depending on the connection between the protagonist and whoever committed the crime, the antagonist. The closer the connection between them, the more personal the story will get, thus increasing the stakes for all characters involved.

The closing of the second act is when the protagonist solves the crime. The third act – the resolution – is all about catching the villain, making a valiant attempt at rescuing or saving someone, and for wrapping up all the other secrets and red herrings that were bound to prop up in the first act.

In the next two parts, we will talk about everything from plotting to worldbuilding – to how to create red herrings and use other storytelling tools to plot your novel just right and give your readers a great thrill of a read.

When it comes to choosing a protagonist, we don’t really refer to making up a cast of characters and then deciding which one of them will move the plot forward. Stories often dictate who gets to tell them, and the same thing applies in this case as well. For example, you cannot tell a cozy mystery story if you choose the neighborhood gossip as the protagonist. Every category has its own share of most common protagonist. The neighborhood gossip or the old spinster that lives around the bend might get to be a protagonist of a cozy mystery novel if the crime and the perpetrator are directly connected to her. But, you can also place a dazed city detective as the new head detective in a small town and tell the story through his eyes. The detective would be a better candidate in this particular example, simply because of two reasons:

– the detective, as a newcomer, will have a great perspective on the little town, enabling you, as the writer, to fully immerse the reader inside the world you’ve built;

– the detective has more potential to change, due to the fact that he has recently moved to a new place to live. An added bonus is the fact that he is moving down in his career by moving to a small town where he is bound to have less work, which immediately poses the question as to why he would do that, hinting a dark and possibly traumatic past in the big city. (An additional added bonus is the opportunity to connect said dark traumatic past to the present mystery that the detective has been presented with).

In conclusion, by choosing your protagonist, you’re choosing what kind of a crime story you will tell. However, make sure that your protagonist is in the best position to tell a story. Due to the fact that crime fiction is all about giving the readers a taste of crime investigation, your protagonist needs to be in the best position to tell the story and give the readers that glimpse, and, in addition, make sure that the protagonist is in a good position for a change. This means ensuring that there is a certain inner conflict in the protagonist that prevents him from solving the crime. Thus, dealing with that inner conflict becomes paramount to the resolution of the story, and giving a satisfying answer to the mystery.

The creation of the world in a crime fiction novel depends, for starters, on the genre that you’ve chosen. A cozy mystery demands a small town, a police procedural novel will be more colorful and the mystery more difficult to solve if it happens in a big city. Meanwhile, you need to determine if you’re going to mix in other genres – paranormal, science fiction, medical science, or maybe even romance – which will further define the parameters of your world. For example, a paranormal crime fiction novel will need a crime that was paranormally done, and by default, you need characters that will be equipped with the right paranormal tools to solve the mystery.

However, when it comes to pure crime fiction that has not been mixed with other genres, the world is all about the crime. For this, you will need to do a lot of research into investigative procedures, and, depending on the story you want to tell, you should find people who have had personal, real experiences, either as witnesses or as investigators. And while the internet has become an enormous resource for writers, it is best if you can have real-life interviews to get a recount of such experiences in real life.

Because here is the thing: no decent investigator will fail to look for prints, clues and DNA at the scene of the crime. Of course, the best mysteries revolve around the lack of clues, prints or any kind of DNA to point the protagonist in the right direction. However, your readers will immediately catch onto an amateur investigator, and if that’s the kind of story that you want to tell, then you need to present your protagonist as an amateur from the start – and have him or her become better and better at their job as the novel progresses. On the other hand, if your characters are supposed to be experienced investigators/detectives/crime solvers, they need to act and do things that would show that, rather than have them blunder and wander around the case like amateurs.

This means that your world will be made up of two sets of characters: the protagonist and the usual cast of people who will help him or her solve the crime (fellow investigators, partners, friends, forensic people focusing on different fields that will do tests and provide the protagonist with clues coming from analysis, mentors, family members who may or may not contribute to the drama, or, in fewer words, the good guys), and the characters who are connected to the crime: suspects, victims that hide something, shady characters who may or may not be connected, and the villain and his collaborators, of course.

The protagonist will be flung into a world of laboratories, interviews with suspects, and a lot of going back and forth as he or she is trying to solve the crime. Remember, the world you will create will need to be the perfect place for the crime to be committed, but you also need to figure out the scale of the crime. Then, there is also the impact that the crime would have on an established community – a small town, a precinct, a county, or a big city neighborhood. The people from a big city neighborhood that sees crime daily will react differently to a crime than people from a small town that has not seen any crime for years.

The world needs to be consistent, especially in locations, time, and the daily life of the characters. Moreover, in most stories, the protagonist is flung into a different world than the one he knew before when he or she is introduced to the problem (in this case, the crime). However, in a crime fiction novel where the protagonist is usually a detective or an investigator, the world of crime investigation will be familiar to them, so make sure that you’re presenting the protagonist with a highly unusual case that forces him or her to go out of their comfort zone, both personally and professionally, to solve the crime, and explore a new world along the way.

Besides the protagonist, we will divide the rest of the cast into several categories.

1) The Suspects

The suspects are very important. The more suspect they are, the more difficult will it be for the protagonist to dig the truth out of them. The mistake that you might make here is to make all the suspects unwilling witnesses and unwilling to talk to the protagonist just for the sake of making things difficult. Remember, if people are shady and secretive, then there must be a good reason for it. They might be protecting something, like the existence of an affair, or maybe they were stealing money and are afraid of that fact coming into the light. Regardless, whatever it is, the secret needs to be big enough and have enough impact for the suspect to do whatever they possibly can to keep the protagonist from discovering it.

2) The Helpers

Or, people who will help the protagonist to solve the crime. The helpers can be other professionals, as we mentioned before, or they might even be family members with the right insight at the right moment. The right information at the right moment has to be delivered in a way that makes sense in the plot, otherwise you’re looking at characters who are only there to be the writer’s deus-ex-machina and help the protagonist achieve his or her goal easily. Remember, a good mystery will present obstacles even in the process of obtaining clues. The best way to bring these characters to life is to present them with clues that make matters more confusing, rather than more clear.

3) Other characters

Not all of the characters in a crime novel will be part of the suspects or the helpers group. If you keep your characters strictly into those two categories, your novel will lack color and vividness. However, make sure that you’re not creating extra family members and friends for the protagonist just to make sure that they are present in the novel. Make sure that even the side characters that are not directly related to the plot are still needed in the story.

The reason why we put the suspects as number 1 is because you need to know and develop these characters just as much as the protagonist and the villain. A decent villain has a deep reason as to why he or she is doing things, and the suspects will need an equally compelling reason and motivation to keep their secrets. When it comes to the other characters, the more you develop them as characters, the easier it will be for you to discover their voices and traits. Make sure that each character is unique – otherwise, your readers will feel like they are reading a long two-sided monologue rather than a dialogue.

In a crime novel, there are several ways to create the right ambiance and mood.

Creating ambiance and mood in a novel begins with the right location. Choosing a beach town for a cozy mystery is a good idea, especially if the events happen during winter and you have fog rolling in from the ocean. On the other hand, if your story happens in the middle of summer in Vegas, the atmosphere will be a lot more different. The first location helps create the cozy mood needed for that type of a crime novel. The second location (Vegas), on the other hand, would be a perfect setting for a police procedural and create an ambiance of speed and thrill, helping you make the readers feel excited about where the story is going.

The pacing of a novel is important in many different ways, but here, we’re looking at pacing as a tool to create ambiance. Here is a very simple rule in pacing: action scenes demand a fast pace, which means using shorter sentences to convey the speed of the action itself. Longer sentences, on the other hand, are used to slow the pace down, to allow time for reflection, on the side of the characters. Both fast and slow pacing of a novel need to be used when creating the mood and ambiance in your story.

Different PoV’s:

you can use multiple point of views in a crime novel: the protagonist, the villain, and you may even offer point-of-view chapters through the eyes of a victim. However, you need to be careful when you choose to add different PoV’s. If you follow the villain, you might reveal so much that the mystery will be obvious to the reader. This is not a good idea, unless you’re writing a story about how the villain was caught, while his or her identity is not that really important in the overall course of the story.

Or, in other words, on the structure of individual scenes and how to build them. One of the easiest ways to understand scenes is to divide them into two parts. The first part of a scene is the disaster, where the protagonist tries to achieve a goal but fails. The second part of the scene is called reflection: where the protagonist faces the new problems and makes a decision and creates a new short-term, immediate goal for himself (or herself). The first part of the scene focuses on the plot (achieving a short term goal that will take the protagonist one step closer to the resolution), and the second part of the scene focuses on the protagonist’s reaction to not being able to achieve the goal (or he or she does achieve it, but that only leads to more problems that the protagonist needs to face), hence, the second part focuses on character.

What makes each story unique is the characters that are in it, not just by what happens in it. What makes characters pop and come to life are their reactions to the events that happen to them. Balancing your scenes in the form of disaster/reflection allows you to move the plot forward and to offer insight inside the protagonist’s mind, further bringing that protagonist to life.

In a crime novel, the protagonist is faced with the problem of solving a crime. A twist is when the protagonist solves the crime either wrongly, or only partially. He may arrest the apprentice, but he has not arrested the master yet – and sometimes, the protagonist is not even aware of this fact. In other words, be careful not to make your twist cause the readers to believe the protagonist is incompetent. If the protagonist catches the wrong guy, then make sure that the protagonist has very compelling evidence against him.

This, however, does not mean that you need to pull of mind blowing twists in order to have a satisfying conclusion and resolution to your novel. Depending on the plot and your story, you might choose to go in one direction only to offer a twist right before the end. However, a twist is not that easy to pull off, so make sure that the twist makes sense in hindsight, and then make sure that you both hide and present all the clues leading up to it beforehand. Otherwise, the twist will not belong in the story, and can really be a havoc to the final resolution of the plot and the story.

how to write a crime story

The crime puzzle is the puzzle you present the readers with when you present them with the crime that propels the start of the story. In other words, the more unusual the crime, the better are your chances at creating a puzzle. The reason why it’s important to treat the crime as a puzzle is because your readers will automatically do that, and as they read your novel, they will try to guess who did it. If you reveal too much, you will enable the reader to figure out who did it before your protagonist does. It’s good if this happens towards the end of the novel, however, if your readers discover by themselves that the villain is the character who seemingly randomly appears on page 15, then you have revealed way too much way too soon.

In this section, we will focus on the tools and elements that can help you build up a great puzzle in the course of the story that will be just as difficult for the reader to solve as it will be for your protagonist.

The best crime puzzle in a novel begins with the crime itself. An unusual crime will present a better puzzle than a usual one. This does not mean that you need to go out of your way to create a crime that is out of the ordinary. For example, you can start your novel with a seemingly random shootout on the street, where the murderer decides to take his own life. Then, the puzzle that needs to be solved would be why the murderer acted that way, so the focus befalls on the murderer and the secrets he was keeping while he was alive. Not every crime needs to be committed behind locked doors without forced entry and without any immediate physical evidence besides a dead body. Often, unusual circumstances will do: a children’s Halloween party ends on a bad note when one of the children is found to have been drowned in an upstairs bathroom.

In a novel, anyone can be an unreliable narrator, if the writer decides so, even the protagonist. However, in a crime novel, an investigation will depend on witnesses. People might have been at the crime scene, or nearby, and they may or may have not heard or seen something. That’s when you get the opportunity to use unreliable witnesses. Their unreliability can be a result of many reasons, which means that the unreliability must be a part of their character. Maybe someone down the alley heard something, but he is a homeless man fighting off a hangover, and his recalling of events is not ideal. He may have seen a man when in fact he was looking at a really tall woman, for example.

However, remember that here, we are talking about building a crime puzzle. Unreliable narrators do not always lie – but make sure that your unreliable witnesses do offer some useful clues. Otherwise, you will have both your protagonist and your readers stumbling about in the dark trying to solve a crime without any real clues whatsoever.

Foreshadowing is a tricky tool to use in a novel, because it always needs a pay-off. You cannot foreshadow a big showdown between a corrupt system in the city and a small-time investigator without delivering on it.

In addition, you might foreshadow too much – so much that your foreshadowing has become foretelling, or, letting know your readers exactly what is going to happen. Foreshadowing as a tool can be used to steer your readers in one direction through use of symbolism, only to pull the plug on them and deliver the payoff in a way that they did not expect. As a storytelling tool, you can use it to foreshadow anything from significant moments to the actual resolution of your novel, maybe even through a simple painting that the protagonist will pay minimum attention to.

Usually, there is a vast array of suspects in any crime novel. The more unusual the crime, the more unusual the suspect list will be. In fact, the crime might even cause the protagonist to look in unusual places for the perpetrator. In the example of the Halloween party from above, depending on the age of the children, the suspect list might range from teenagers who were at the party to the elderlies. This is the moment when the protagonist chooses which suspects to discard as the possible criminals, and which ones to keep investigating.

This means that among the suspects, there will always be some who will be discarded: due to a strong alibi, or because of other reasons, like lack of physical health. It’s not necessary for the protagonist to discard the real criminal as a suspect, but when that happens, the suspect is revealed in a twist at the end.

However, in order to create a better crime puzzle, the serious suspects need to have a motive to commit the crime, the means (physical strength, location, etc.), and proximity to the crime scene. In addition, they need to keep their secrets close and be unwilling to tell the truth when they’re being interrogated. Some might keep secrets that can put them in jail, others can keep secrets because of other reasons. But, like all the other tools, the use of unreliability in characters needs to be sparse and limited to when it’s really needed.

Red herrings are clues that you place in the novel in order to steer the protagonist and the reader in the wrong direction. Red herrings are your best friend when you want to write a novel with a good twist at the end. Here is the deal about red herrings: they mustn’t be too obvious, but they also need to be effective. A red herring that is too obvious will make the protagonist look incompetent when he follows it. On the other hand, the red herring is useless if the reader and the protagonist completely miss it.

The elements that actually should be missed – or not paid much attention to – are the Chekhov’s guns. The rule of Chekhov’s gun is easy to remember: if you introduce a gun in the first act of your novel, by the end of the third act, that gun needs to fire a bullet. However, the bigger the introduction of the Chekhov’s gun, the more obvious their firing will be. For that reason, it’s best to introduce these elements as minimally as possible, and then when the gun does fire off, it’s both a surprise for the readers.

Like all other genres, the crime genre is also filled with tropes, situations, twists, resolutions, and character clichés. There are many common ones that appear in almost all crime fiction novels.

– The estranged wife – the detective is such a workaholic that all he ever thinks about is the job – the crime, the missing person, the theft – and he almost never sees the kids, he never pays attention to their home anymore. They may be divorced, if they’re not, they probably will by the end of the novel.

– The hospital situation – a key witness has been so severely injured that the doctors are not sure if he or she is going to survive. The detective has to go to a hospital to check on the witness, all the while dodging and dealing with family members who are outraged that all that the detective cares about is solving the crime.

(The above two examples offer a very good glimpse into the rule of clichés: once you start, it’s easy to build a cliché on top of a cliché until your whole novel ends up being nothing more than a string of clichés – which does not guarantee you a big audience)

– The good cop/bad cop combo – often seen in police procedural, a suspect or a witness is being interrogated by two cops, one of whom is playing bad cop. A good subversion of this cliché is when the two partners consciously decide to play those roles for a reason (maybe to manipulate a manipulative suspect), however, if you’re going to use this cliché, then maybe you need to rethink the whole story.

– The veteran gets a new rookie partner – and from then on, you can continue building on top of the clichés: the partner might throw up at his first autopsy, he might feel too much empathy for other people, something the gruff, old, veteran detective cannot stand anymore because the streets have hardened him.

The danger with clichés is that you will easily start building on them. The best way to avoid clichés is to first recognize them, and then turn them over. Make the rookie be able to deal with anything, while the older detective is tired of all the evil he has seen. Make the rookie reckless and get into danger, while still managing to solve a crime, reminding the old grizzled detective that the cause they’re fighting for is noble and brings good. There are many ways to subvert a cliché with a little thinking outside of the box. The more you apply it, the easier it will be for you to detect clichés during the writing of your novel and subvert them in interesting ways.

Here is what happens when you fall into a plot trap – i.e when you write a crime that is proving to be impossible to solve. First, you might get stuck during the writing process and may have to fall back on deus-ex-machina to solve your problem, or, to fall back on another gem: when stuck, have a gunman come in and stir things up. If you need a gunman to come in to stir things up, then you’re in trouble, plot-wise.

In order to avoid plot traps, it’s advisable to plot your novel before you write it. This will help you foresee possible problems. Since the novel will revolve around a crime, you will need to plot the course of the protagonist’s investigation. Then, you will need to know exactly what the villain will be doing during this time: will he take action against the protagonist, forcing him into a reactive position, and if so, how and when will that action take place, how will it enable the protagonist to continue with the investigation, and how is the villain able to pull such a thing off.

Another way to deal with plot traps is to make drastic changes in order to eliminate them. This usually happens when you discover plot holes during the editing process of your novel, and it might take a lot of time (months even), to deal with them. Be wary of the solutions that come out of nowhere, because they are bound to anger your readers. In other words, do not have a psychic come up with clues for your protagonist, unless you’re writing a story where the evidence of psychic people is recognized as legal by the law.

Writing a crime novel is not an easy process. Compared to other genres, like romance, a crime fiction novel demands that you do your research into crime and the investigation process. If you’re going for a courtroom crime novel, then you need to have really good insider knowledge of what really is happening in a court room. In addition, you need to read as many novels from the crime fiction genre, because that will enable you to recognize clichés easily. It’s a lot easier to recognize clichés when you’re reading them, and it’s even easier to unconsciously regurgitate clichés in your writing without even realizing it. Having a good basis of research and reading to fall back on will help you write a better novel – and if it’s your debut novel, it will help you attract more readers.

This concludes our guide to writing crime fiction. We hope you will find it useful when writing your crime fiction novel. Make sure to give yourself enough time to prepare with research, so you do not need to look up random (but important facts) when you’re writing your novel. In addition, do not forget that in a crime novel, everything revolves around the crime, however, it is the characters that will bring your story to life, so, make sure to focus both on plot and character (and the balance between them) in order to tell  a tighter – and more profound story.

Georgina Roy wants to live in a world filled with magic. As a screenwriting student, she is content to fill notebooks and sketchbooks with magical creatures and amazing new worlds. When she is not at school, watching a film or scribbling away in a notebook, you can usually find her curled up, reading a good urban fantasy novel, or writing on her own.

  • PRO Courses Guides New Tech Help Pro Expert Videos About wikiHow Pro Upgrade Sign In
  • EDIT Edit this Article
  • EXPLORE Tech Help Pro About Us Random Article Quizzes Request a New Article Community Dashboard This Or That Game Popular Categories Arts and Entertainment Artwork Books Movies Computers and Electronics Computers Phone Skills Technology Hacks Health Men's Health Mental Health Women's Health Relationships Dating Love Relationship Issues Hobbies and Crafts Crafts Drawing Games Education & Communication Communication Skills Personal Development Studying Personal Care and Style Fashion Hair Care Personal Hygiene Youth Personal Care School Stuff Dating All Categories Arts and Entertainment Finance and Business Home and Garden Relationship Quizzes Cars & Other Vehicles Food and Entertaining Personal Care and Style Sports and Fitness Computers and Electronics Health Pets and Animals Travel Education & Communication Hobbies and Crafts Philosophy and Religion Work World Family Life Holidays and Traditions Relationships Youth
  • Browse Articles
  • Learn Something New
  • Quizzes Hot
  • This Or That Game New
  • Train Your Brain
  • Explore More
  • Support wikiHow
  • About wikiHow
  • Log in / Sign up
  • Education and Communications
  • Writing Genres

How to Write Crime Stories

Last Updated: January 29, 2023 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by David A. Payne, JD . David A. Payne is the President and Executive Producer of RainStream Media, a media company who focuses on telling true crime stories with underlying themes of social justice. He has extensive experience in media and entertainment, having served as both General Counsel and a C-level executive for comapnies such as Turner Broadcasting, CNN, and USA Today. He is also a lawyer - he received his JD from the Duke University School of Law and is licensed to practice law in California. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 234,390 times.

Like many authors, crime writers sometimes get an itch to break the conventions of the genre and create something unique. This is a fine impulse to listen to, but not one you want to take too far. Weigh the advice you hear against your own opinion, and find a path forward that includes everything you love about the mystery genre, garnishing the story with your own style.

Outlining the Plot

Step 1 Try working backward.

  • What could have led to this crime scene?
  • What motivation would cause someone to commit the crime, or to frame someone else?
  • What kind of person would follow through on that motivation?
  • Use Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? questions to get you started: Who committed the crime and who did they do it to? What was the crime? When did it happen (morning, evening, afternoon, dead of night)? Where did it happen? Why did they do it? How did they do it?

Step 2 Choose a setting.

  • Recognize that the size of the place will influence the development of your story. For example, in a large city or busy public place, you will have lots of opportunities to introduce witnesses. However, in a “locked-room mystery” (one where all the characters seem to be present in the same room throughout the occurrence of the crime), you will likely have no external witnesses, but may be able to draw upon your characters opinions and biases of each other.
  • Focus on the elements of your setting that are essential to the story. For example, is weather essential? If it is, write about it in great detail. If it is not, only mention it briefly or leave it out altogether. A dark, gritty setting adds atmosphere and works well with stories centered on organized crime. Setting a crime in an idyllic, ordinary town adds its own kind of chill.

Step 3 Decide on a protagonist.

  • Some characters should be potential suspects for having committed the crime (and at least one should actually be guilty of the crime), some should be supporting characters that serve to make the storyline interesting (a love interest or meddling mother-in-law, perhaps), and one (or more) should be focused on solving the mystery.
  • Well-written characters will have motives for acting in ways that further the plot.Okay, the gritty noir detective or genius investigator is an option, but come up with alternatives or twists.
  • Make the crime matter personally to the protagonist, to raise the emotional stakes. This could be related to the protagonist's mysterious past, a close friend or family member in danger, or the fate of the town, country, or world. [1] X Research source

Step 4 Consider your antagonist or villain.

  • Describe your villain well, but not too well. You don’t want your reader to guess right from the beginning of the story who is the culprit. Your reader may become suspicious if you spend a disproportionate amount of time describing one character.
  • You may want to make your villain someone that has been slightly suspicious all along. On the other hand, you may want to make the revelation of the culprit or criminal a complete shock. “Framing” someone throughout the story is a surefire way to keep your readers hooked to your mystery short stories.
  • Instead of a villain, consider including a sidekick. Maybe your sleuth has a friend or partner that will help her sort the clues and point out things that she misses. [3] X Research source No one says the sleuth has to do it all alone! What if the sidekick and villain end up being one in the same?
  • Think of the basics. Male or female? What is the detective's name? How old are they? What do they look like (hair color, eye color, and skin tone)? Where are they from? Where are they living when your story starts? How did they become part of the story? Are they victims? Are they the cause of the problems in your story?

Step 5 Think about the crime scene.

  • Present an opportunity for mystery. Create a situation in which a crime can reasonably occur and one that you will be able to reasonably recreate yourself. Did all the power go out in the city due to a thunderstorm? Was a door or a safe accidentally left unlocked? Paint a vivid picture of the situation surrounding the occurrence of the crime that will be the focus of your mystery.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of the “backdrop” for the crime. [4] X Research source An intricate understanding of the setting in which the crime takes place is an important tool that will help when it comes to developing your narrative.
  • Here are some suggestions for crimes: Something has been stolen from the classroom, Something is missing from your bookbag, Something strange is found on the baseball field, Someone has stolen the class pet, Someone is sending you strange notes, Someone has broken into the Science materials closet, someone has written on the bathroom wall, someone has tracked red mud into the building.

Step 6 Consider clues and the detective work.

  • You should include evidence processing skills such as fingerprinting, toxicology, handwriting analysis, blood spatter patterns, etc.
  • The detective work must be good. Develop how your detective or protagonist ultimately solves the case, keeping their personality and qualities in mind. Make sure it isn't cheesy or too obvious.

Step 7 Collaborate as a writing group.

Writing the Story

Step 1 Establish the genre.

  • If you want to write about what happens before the crime, you can go back in time for the second chapter, adding a subheading such as "one week earlier."

Step 2 Choose a perspective.

  • This is especially important for the biggest reveal — whodunnit? — and the wrong choice can ruin a novel for a lot of readers. The villain should either be a suspect or demonstrate enough suspicious behavior that a clever reader can guess the identity.

Step 6 End on a dramatic note.

Community Q&A

Community Answer

  • Give yourself time. You can plan everything in advance, or you can write rapidly and edit later. Both approaches require a great deal of time, and a willingness to make major changes. Thanks Helpful 1 Not Helpful 0
  • Enlist people to edit your story and give feedback. After some polishing, steel yourself and show the work to strangers. Their advice will be harsher but more honest than your friends'. Thanks Helpful 0 Not Helpful 1

how to write crime fiction

  • Crime fiction is a genre filled with cliché. There's a fine line between paying tribute to your favorite stories and style and straightforward copying. Thanks Helpful 12 Not Helpful 0

You Might Also Like

Write a Good Story

  • ↑ http://armchairinterviews.com/pages/crime-fiction-tips-and-pet-peeves
  • ↑ https://writerunboxed.com/2022/05/03/hiding-your-villain-in-plain-sight/
  • ↑ https://screencraft.org/blog/writing-a-likeable-sidekick-7-archetypes-you-can-choose-from/
  • ↑ https://jerichowriters.com/how-to-write-an-immersive-setting/
  • ↑ https://www.novlr.org/the-reading-room/the-art-of-the-plot-twist-how-to-keep-your-audience-guessing

About This Article

David A. Payne, JD

If you want to write a crime story, start by choosing a crime, then work backward, describing what led to the crime. Think about what kind of person might commit a crime like this, and what might motivate them to do so. For instance, if you’re describing a bank heist, your criminals might be a gang of petty thieves looking for a big score, or it could be parents of a sick child who need money for treatment. Give the reader clues, but throw in some misleading details as well so the audience won’t guess what’s going on too early in the story! Read on to learn tips on describing your crime scene! Did this summary help you? Yes No

  • Send fan mail to authors

Reader Success Stories


Did this article help you?


Rushi Borude

Jun 3, 2017

Daniel Little

Daniel Little

Nov 20, 2016

Vineet P.

Feb 1, 2017

Merkesha Whitmore

Merkesha Whitmore

Mar 7, 2017

Am I a Narcissist or an Empath Quiz

Featured Articles

How to Read Palms

Trending Articles

What Is My Personal Color Quiz

Watch Articles

Oven Dry Bread

  • Terms of Use
  • Privacy Policy
  • Do Not Sell or Share My Info
  • Not Selling Info

wikiHow Tech Help Pro:

Level up your tech skills and stay ahead of the curve

  • Developing your idea
  • Seeking inspiration
  • Pace and plot
  • Creating characters
  • Writing dialogue
  • Writing for children
  • Writing non-fiction
  • Dedicated Genre Advice
  • Interviews with Authors
  • Dealing with rejection
  • How publishers work
  • Literary agents
  • Crowdfunding
  • Beyond the book
  • Ghostwriting
  • Illustration
  • Translation
  • Self-Publishing Providers
  • Writing and Editing
  • Design, Formatting, and Production
  • Distribution and Sales
  • Publicity and Marketing
  • Understanding Self-Publishing
  • More From Writers & Artists
  • Related editing services & events
  • Related community content
  • Interviews about Self-Publishing
  • Exhibiting and Working on Commission
  • Preparing your portfolio
  • Finding inspiration
  • Self-promotion
  • Identifying your audience
  • Interviews with Artists
  • Agony Agent
  • Bespoke Mentoring
  • How Strong Is Your Book Idea?
  • Opening Chapters
  • Full Manuscript Review
  • Final Polish
  • Beat the Rejection Consultation
  • Events & Courses Back How to Get Published How to Hook an Agent Masterclasses Writing Courses Children's & YA Fiction Festival Writing Calendar The Bloomsbury Institute
  • Resources Back Literary agencies Publishers Glossary Just browsing How to use Listings Subscriptions Videos & Podcasts
  • Find a group
  • Search/Add Connections
  • Competitions

Top Tips On Writing Crime Fiction

On the evening of 5 th  April 2017, I attended the Writers & Artist’s How to Write Crime Fiction masterclass, with best-selling author Mark Billingham. It was a fantastic introduction to writing crime fiction – talking rules and when to break them. 

Mark Billingham

Here are 10 top tips I learnt from Mark:

1. Write the book you want to read

As a writer, don’t look for gaps in the market. Instead, write about what interests you as a reader  as this is likely to interest other people too. 

2. Choose a strong opening

You need to hook the reader quickly and early. You have 15 seconds in a bookshop to ‘sell’ your book through the cover, blurb and first few paragraphs. Lure the reader in with a killer sentence or anything that asks a question. This is essential if you’re submitting a manuscript to an agent or publisher, as this will make the difference between them reading your first three chapters or not. 

3. Decide on your point of view (POV)

You may find you write more quickly and easily in first person, but the protagonist has to be present in every scene and can’t know what anyone else is thinking. Your character also needs to be interesting as everything is filtered through their world-view. If you decided to write in first person, you need to make sure that your protagonist's thoughts are entertaining to keep your readers engaged.

Second person is rarely used, but third person has more scope and is most commonly used in crime fiction. But the POV must be consistent, with no head hopping within a scene or chapter. Chapters can switch between viewpoints or some may be written in the first person to get inside the killer’s head. 

4. Find your own way

Decide whether, and how much, you want to plot in advance. Do what’s right for you.

Mark takes the ‘driving at night’ approach to writing. He knows where he’s going, but can only see as far as the headlights. The journey opens up bit by bit and sometimes he comes to dead ends and brick walls. He’ll have an idea of what’s going to happen 40 or so chapters ahead. But, surprising yourself as you write is part of the fun.

5. Don’t get bogged down by research

Do your research after you've written your story. Then you’ll know what you need to know. Crime readers can be savvy about procedure, such as DNA and fingerprints, so don’t take liberties. Visit locations if you can, simply to get a feel of a place – what they smell like, what they look like. You can’t get all of that on Google Maps.

Illnesses and addictions affect a lot of people so it’s good to have a proper insight, and people are usually happy to talk. If you’re talking to coppers, listen to their anecdotes and banter. 

6.  Dialogue is everything

Great writers can do everything through dialogue, conveying information and character traits. So if you’re good at writing dialogue, use it a lot. You can even write whole scenes in dialogue if this works for you. Remember though, dialogue looks different on a screen to how it sounds. So read it out loud and if you hear clunky lines, lose them. 

Character and realism in dialogue is more important that literary eloquence. But unnecessary dialogue can be tedious so ditch the small talk. And remember that naturalistic dialogue isn't always readable, so you may have to adapt it.

7. Be disciplined

Every writer has their own routine. Some have no routine at all. It’s important to keep writing – 5000 words a week is a good target, but it’s not set in stone. Some days will be less productive than others. If you’re struggling to write more of your story one day, write something else for a while. 

8. Less is more

Nudge the reader’s imagination. A single drop of blood on a pristine kitchen floor can be far more powerful than a graphic murder scene. 

If you’re good at describing landscapes, describe them. But don’t paint the whole picture. Readers also don’t need to know everything about your characters’ clothes, hair or mannerisms. 

9. When you’re done, rewrite

Some people write from beginning to end and then go back to the beginning and do the rewrites. Others can’t write Chapter Two unless they've finished with Chapter One. 

Rewriting is generally taking stuff away, but not always. If it sounds like writing, rewrite it. Leave out the boring parts readers tend to skip. 

At some point you’ll need to hand your manuscript over to a reader for their opinion. Make sure it’s someone you trust but someone who’ll be honest too. If they’re telling you something’s not right, it’s often confirming what you already know. 

10. Finish things – and start again

This is what makes you into a writer – you finish what you've started. Don’t give up halfway through. 

As a writer, you’ll do a lot of waiting – for agents, publishers, edits… – so always be thinking about your next book. 

  Victoria Goldman is a freelance health journalist and freelance health editor for Bupa. Her book, Allergies: A Parents' Guide, was published by Need2Know Books in 2013. She is currently writing her own crime novel. She has a book blog, specialising mainly in crime fiction - www.off-the-shelfbooks.blogspot.co.uk

Valuable tips. It will definitely help anyone thinking to write a crime fiction.

Profile picture for user rajsahay_52793

  • Facebook share


  1. How to Write a Crime Novel: 9 Tips for Writing Crime Fiction

    how to write crime fiction

  2. Crime Writing For Beginners

    how to write crime fiction

  3. How to Write Crime Fiction by Sarah Williams (English) Paperback Book Free Shipp 9781845285692

    how to write crime fiction

  4. BlueHost.com

    how to write crime fiction

  5. How To Write Authentic Crime Fiction With Patrick O'Donnell From Cops and Writers

    how to write crime fiction

  6. 5 Reasons To Write Crime Fiction

    how to write crime fiction


  1. What Are the Seven Elements of Fiction?

    The seven elements of fiction include character, theme, plot, point of view, setting, conflict and tone. All of these elements are used to compile and write a fictional story or a piece of literature.

  2. How Do I Write a Police Statement?

    To write a police statement, list your contact information, specific details about the crime, such as the time and location of the incident, and names and contact information of the people who were involved, if possible.

  3. Empowerment Through Writing: Discover the Benefits of Crafting Your Own Story

    Have you ever felt the desire to write your own story? Whether it’s a memoir, a fictional novel, or even a blog post, writing can be a powerful tool for self-expression and personal growth.

  4. How to Write a Crime Novel: 9 Tips for Writing Crime Fiction

    How to Write a Crime Novel: 9 Tips for Writing Crime Fiction · 1. Read the greats. Shore up your crime-writing skills by immersing yourself in

  5. 25 essential tips for writing gripping crime fiction

    1. Read crime. If you think this is obvious, then you're probably already doing this. · 2. Read the greats. width= · 3. Read the current heroes

  6. How to Write a Mystery or Crime Novel: 8 Tips for Writing Crime Fiction

    8. Outline Your Story · Establish the detective and crime. · Set up the story. · Show reluctance of the protagonist. · First attempt to solve

  7. How to Write Crime Fiction: Master the Craft of Crime Novels

    Each one needs to be fleshed out, contributing to the mystery, adding to the suspense. Give them secrets, hidden depths that keep the reader

  8. How to Write Crime Fiction: A Beginner's Guide

    Here is a very simple rule in pacing: action scenes demand a fast pace, which means using shorter sentences to convey the speed of the action itself. Longer

  9. How to Write Crime Stories: 13 Steps (with Pictures)

    Focus on the elements of your setting that are essential to the story. For example, is weather essential? If it is, write about it in great detail. If it is not

  10. Tips For Writing Crime Fiction And Thrillers

    Tips For Writing Crime Fiction And Thrillers · 1. Know The Market · 2. Understand Where The Leading Edge Lies · 3. Don't Just Trot Out Old Clichés · 4. Be

  11. Crime fiction: How to plot a crime novel

    Support us in other ways: ... Plot and structure are particularly important when writing crime fiction. The mystery must be unraveled at a steady

  12. How to Write a Crime Thriller: 7 Elements of Suspenseful Crime Fiction

    3. Set pieces: In novel writing, a set piece is a key element that you build the rest of your narrative around. In good thriller writing, a set

  13. 7 Tips for Writing Crime Fiction

    7 Tips for Writing Crime Fiction · 1. Begin with the murder. · 2. Love your creeps. · 3. Put your protagonist at risk. · 4. Make your

  14. Top Tips On Writing Crime Fiction

    Top Tips On Writing Crime Fiction · 1. Write the book you want to read · 2. Choose a strong opening · 3. Decide on your point of view (POV) · 4. Find your own