7 Important Crime-Writing Guidelines

7 Important Crime-Writing Guidelines


Writers Write is your one-stop resource for writers. In this post, we have compiled seven important crime-writing guidelines to help you write your novel.

One of my favourite genres to read on holiday is crime. When I read a crime novel, I want to be entertained and I want to be educated. I am obsessed with people’s motives. I am interested in the criminals and the detectives and lawyers who try to bring them to justice. I want to find out how this happens.

I like the characters I read about to be interesting and their lives to be complicated. I like lots of dialogue and clever plotting. I dislike a lack of pacing when I’m reading crime fiction. So, I’ve put together a list I think beginner crime novelists should look at before they write their novels.

7 Important Crime-Writing Guidelines

It doesn’t matter which sub-genre of crime-writing they choose, these are seven guidelines I believe they should follow:

  1. Inciting moments matter. At the centre of any mystery is a crime (usually a murder). The plot involves discovering who committed it, and why and how they did it.
  2. Danger is important. Mysteries need a crime that is interesting and realistic that has serious life-changing consequences for the main characters.
  3. Setting is crucial. Use it to aid and abet the antagonist, and to hinder the protagonist. Setting adds layers to the story. More specifically, readers want clues and details from the crime scene. Your character’s reactions to different settings also show your readers who he or she is.
  4. Nobody’s perfect. The protagonist is heroic, but he should also be flawed. The antagonist is villainous, but he should have some redeeming qualities. (Creating memorable characters is something we emphasise on our Writers Write course.)
  5. Pacing will set you apart. Find ways to introduce tension and conflict throughout your mystery. Don’t spend time on meaningless descriptions and conversations that don’t add to the plot.
  6. Research is vital. Find out about all aspects of the crime in your book, including how a crime scene is handled, different investigation methods, forensic techniques, and court proceedings. You can attend criminal trials, ask your police service if they have a civilian ride-along programme, ask lawyers about laws, and question criminologists and psychologists on how criminals think.
  7. Endings should satisfy. The writer should reveal most of the important elements at the end of the story. Generally, this includes who murdered the victim, along with his or her method and motive.

If you’ve considered and included these elements, your story will be easier to write, and more enjoyable for readers to read.

by Amanda Patterson

If you enjoyed this post, read:

  1. 50 Ways to Say ‘Villain’
  2. Five Fabulous Tips for First Time Crime Writers
  3. Nine Examples of Sub-Genres in Crime Fiction
  4. 10 Deadly Poisons – A crime writer’s resource
  5. Crime Writer’s Resource – The Human Body After Death

© Amanda Patterson

If you want to learn how to write a book, join our Writers Write course in Johannesburg or sign up for our online course.

This article has 1 comment

  1. Andrea Papke

    Thou I write for associated content on-line. I also have completed a book and am working on a mystery/thriller. Mine is true deep in the woods of Mt Si in WA State. So you see I’ll change my name and my families name. I 1st think a lot, branstorm. Usually my 1st draft is the just of my Sarah Jane(book) story. We have to know the Heroine, and little clues are dropped- if you listen. My story goes back & forth, as Sarah Jane had taken back her Aunt against her families whishes when she was 30. But deep in the cabin will unfold as 2 lil girls devise their way to get out as the end of a dirt road/ w/no phone/ no Mom. Untill Sarah finds all those letters and sees her Aunt’s dirty trick for the 1st time. But it wouldn’t be the last. My book reminds me of Secret Window w/Depp. He goes crazy asking questions. Her Aunts cruel letter made her sick and she must be happy again, and in order to be happy -she needs the enlightenment- even if it is wrong, because for Sarah Jane it means more to her than life in-itself.
    This is how I start, than I build the characters.

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