November 9, 2023
A crime novel can be exciting for the reader—and the writer. Crime novels outsell all other genres. This popular genre includes cozy mysteries, detective novels, police procedurals, serial killer stories, noir fiction, and serial killer stories. If you want to keep your crime writing crisp, learn the basic how-to’s of plot writing and avoid the common crime novel mistakes.
Readers count on crime novels to keep them intrigued, puzzled, and constantly turning the pages to find out what happens and who the culprit is. The puzzle element is an important part of this fiction, but the crime writers who rise above the pack are those who offer even more to their readers. These writers know how to create characters the readers care about, settings that transport the reader, and dialogue that sounds realistic. These novelists also avoid the crime fiction mistakes that bog these books down.
A crime novel always centers around a crime. Usually, the crime is murder, but some crime novels focus on other crimes. The crime sets off a series of events that bring together various characters.
There is usually one person who dives into the details of the crime and solves it. This may be a police detective, private eye, or other professional. Since most of the plot revolves around this character, it’s important to draw them in a compelling way.
Crime novel readers have an insatiable appetite for their favorite genre, which is why popular writers produce series centered around favorite detectives. If you’re writing a crime novel, consider planning to write a series. If readers like your book, they will want to see more of the people and settings you create.
Some popular, bestselling detective series include the following:
In some crime novels—known as “cozy” mysteries—the one who figures out the crime is a regular person in the community. Usually, they own or work in a small business like a bakery, shop, or vicarage.
Some examples of popular cozy mystery series follow.
A well-written mystery novel has twists, turns, false leads, and surprises. To get your story clear in your mind—and on the page—you must have a solid plan. You must know:
A mystery novel is like a puzzle. You must plant enough clues that, at the end, the reader can say, “Yes, I see how that clue or set of clues made it obvious he or she is the culprit.”
Even if the reader didn’t figure it out, it is satisfying to know that the answers were there all along. It’s fine to have so-called “red herrings” that point to other possible suspects, but don’t leave out important facts that the reader doesn’t know until the end. Doing that is one of the crime fiction mistakes that readers find hard to forgive.
Some crime writers take the interesting tactic of telling you right away who the guilty person is. The rest of the book then involves figuring out why the crime occurred, how they will (or won’t) get caught, and the efforts of law enforcement to find them. This may be considered one of the biggest crime fiction mistakes, but it has worked for some successful crime novelists.
Most crime readers have a basic familiarity with police procedures, DNA testing, crime investigation, and how certain weapons work. If you’re going to write about an investigation or a courtroom proceeding, you should have a firm grasp of the facts.
Readers will quickly spot any crime fiction mistakes in your writing.
The same goes for your choice of weapons. If your killer used poison, what type of poison is it? How easy is it to get, and does it have other uses? Did your killer use a gun? Know something about the type of gun it is.
The crime is the central plot point of a crime novel, so make sure yours occurs early in the story. You can always backtrack to fill in plot points that the reader needs to know.
The crime doesn’t have to be murder. It could involve kidnapping, extortion, blackmail, con game, trafficking of drugs or people, or any criminal activity. Once you have chosen your crime, fill in the details on your plan:
Some crime writers approach mystery novels like they’re dry puzzles. They lay out a plot, build the clues, and design a good plot. Reading these books can be enjoyable, but they don’t create characters that readers want to see over and over.
Think about the most popular detective series in crime stories. Readers return to their books because they’ve become attached to the detective who regularly appears in each new adventure. James Patterson’s Alex Cross, David Baldacci’s Amos Ross Decker, P.D. James’s Adam Dalgliesh, Catharina Ingleman-Sundberg’s League of Pensioners, and Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Maltabano are all very different, but they share some common characteristics. They are relatable, likable, flawed, and human. They are driven by the desire to find justice, and the reader feels compelled to cheer them on.
Yes, it’s important to be factual and accurate about the investigation, but don’t get bogged down in dry details. You probably won’t need every scrap of information you turned up in your research. You don’t want your book to read like a crime lab report or a court proceeding, so use what is necessary and leave the rest out.
At the end, the reader should feel they’ve learned what they need to know about the crime, including who did it, how, and why. They should also feel that the main character has achieved some success.
Never leave your readers with a bleak, unresolved ending. That may be fine for some novels, but it is not what crime readers want. They want a satisfying ending that ties all the loose ends of the plot together. They also want to be sure their hero lives on to fight another day.
The setting of a crime novel is as important as the plot or characters. Readers want to feel immersed in a new world, whether that world is a tiny coastal village in Ireland or the criminal underworld of New Orleans. Create a compelling setting and show how the crime affects the people who live there.
Every good detective has a trusty sidekick, and your main character needs someone they can rely on for moral support. Sidekicks are often used to inject humor into a bleak crime story. You may also want to create a love interest or other people who work as sounding boards for your main character. You can create interesting subplots around these side characters.
If you have a plan, do your research, and pay attention to the key elements of a crime novel, you can write a page-turning mystery. Avoid the common crime fiction mistakes, and start writing. When you’re ready to publish your mystery, talk to Publishing Xpress.
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