How do you turn your idea for a book into a readable crime novel?
Remember that genres exist for a reason. The majority of readers like them. Don’t think that it’s easier to write in a genre. It’s not. Readers who enjoy genre fiction know what they want, and they know if you’re writing down to them. Genre is not a derogatory term. It simply describes the style and focus of the novel you write.
For the purpose of this post, I am talking about crime fiction broadly and you can include detective, police procedural, mystery, suspense, and thrillers in my description. As you can see from this chart from Neilsen BookScan ( the industry tracking system that captures most of the print market ) these books are widely read. (source)
Here are 13 questions to ask that may help you write a better crime novel:
- Does your idea fit into a general crime writing genre? Or a sub-genre? When you are writing generic fiction, it’s a good idea to follow the guidelines of these genres or sub-genres. [Suggested reading: 9 Examples Of Sub-Genres In Crime Fiction]
- Have you chosen an appropriate setting? Use the setting that will add the most suspense. It should be one that helps the antagonist and thwarts the protagonist (especially in the beginning). Setting also adds layers to the story. Your choice of setting and the characters’ reactions to it show your readers who they are. [Suggested reading: 5 Incredibly Simple Ways To Help Writers Show And Not Tell]
- Do you have a beginning that will engage readers? Pacing is crucial in crime writing. Crime fiction enthusiasts want to read a book that begins (sometimes, quite literally) with a bang. More than any other genre, you need to start in the middle of the action, which is usually when a crime occurs, or when one is discovered.
- Do you have an intriguing crime? The crime does not have to be grisly or off-putting. It should ask a question that the reader wants the author to reveal. Human beings are terrible gossips because we want to hear about the details. We wonder why people commit crimes and if we would or could do the same thing. [Recommended read: A Tense Situation – 5 Tips To Help You Write A Gripping Read]
- Have you chosen the right victims? Your victims do not have to be likeable, but we should feel empathy for them. The best way to do this is to show the suffering of their loved ones. The victims also have to give your detectives clues to the identity of the antagonist, so make sure the victim fits the crime.
- Is your protagonist likeable? If not, is he charming, clever, or empathetic enough? You can also get away with writing about an amoral protagonist or an anti-hero if you do it properly. [Suggested reading: 9 Ways To Make Readers Care For An Amoral Protagonist]
- Have you included the usual suspects? You need the four main characters in crime writing more than in any other genre. These four characters are the devices you need to tell the story. The most important character to develop is the antagonist, because he or she often defines your protagonist’s story goal.
- Is your antagonist believable? Does your antagonist have the motive, the means and the opportunity? We are obsessed with people’s motives. Especially those of amoral or evil people. We are vicarious detectives who take a serious interest in the motivation behind crimes, as well as in the execution and solution of them.
- Have you included enough clues to keep the reader interested? In Adding Suspense, Anthony Ehler says: ‘As a storyteller, you must start with an intriguing opening, introducing action and conflict or giving a glimpse into main character’s emotional dilemma. Then you must consistently tease the reader with new information—giving them just enough to make them want more, but not so much that you overplay your hand.’
- Have you added red herrings? Use these to mislead the characters for a while, but don’t add too many. They can become annoying and tiresome.
- Have you included enough danger? Alfred Hitchcock said, ‘Always make the audience suffer as much as possible.’ Readers want your protagonists to struggle before they solve the crimes. They want to know that the antagonist is worth pursuing because he or she is dangerous. [Suggested read: 6 Things Alfred Hitchcock Can Teach You About Writing]
- Do you have enough cliff hangers in your book? I don’t mean major cliffhangers. I’m talking about those endings dotted throughout your book that leave the reader wanting more. You need to ensure you have enough surprises and twists to make the reader turn the page. Add one every fourth scene if possible. [Suggested: 6 Ways To Create Satisfying Scene Endings]
- Do you have a believable ending? Does your ending answer the question asked in number 4 ? Does it answer it in a satisfying manner? [For more help, read: The Sense Of An Ending – How To End Your Book] Does your reader feel vindicated? We read crime to find a sense of justice because so few criminals are punished in real life. We like it when fictional characters get their just desserts.
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