crime novel

Crime Novel: Don’t Make These Grievous Mistakes

Salmaan Ahmad

Salmaan Ahmad

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.

Get into a Thrilling Genre

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.

What Is a Crime Novel?

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.

What Makes a Great Crime Novel?

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:

  • Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series: This award-winning series by Canadian writer Louise Penny features an experienced homicide detective solving murders in a small village in Quebec.
  • Kinsey Millhone series: Known for each title that starts with a letter and what it stands for, this popular series stars a former police detective turned private investigator.
  • Matthew Scudder series by Lawrence Block: The much-loved series introduced the world to Matt Scudder, a former New York City police detective who haunts the meanest streets of the city solving crimes.
  • Harry Bosch series by Michael Connelly: These books and the Mickey Haller series, also by Connelly, feature many of the same characters and criminals crossing paths in the bleak Los Angeles underworld.

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.

  • Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series: From the time the first book in the series, Murder at the Vicarage, was published in 1930, Christie’s Miss Marple series has been a worldwide bestseller.
  • Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency: This series by Alexander McCall Smith charts the exploits of Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s only female detective.
  • Bakery murders by Joanne Fluke: The wildly popular series features Hannah, a bakery store owner who helps solve murders in her small Midwestern town.
  • Antique bookshop series: These books by Laura Gail Black feature the typical small village setting and amateur sleuth that mark a cozy mystery.

Have a Plan

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:

  • Who is the criminal?
  • How did they commit the act?
  • What clues will end up giving the criminal away?
  • How will the criminal get caught, and who will do the catching?
  • Which clues will you leave for a sharp-eyed reader to catch?
  • What false leads and twists will you plant to trip up the reader?

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.

Do Your Research

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.

Start with the Crime

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:

  • Where did it happen?
  • Who is the victim?
  • Who is the criminal?
  • Why did the criminal do it?

Avoid These Crime Fiction Mistakes

Characters That Aren’t Compelling

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.

Getting Bogged Down in Forensic Details

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.

An Ending That Doesn’t Satisfy

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.

Ignoring the Setting

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.

Not Creating Sidekicks

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.

You Can Write a Compelling Crime Novel

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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