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Tips on writing a crime novel

Thinking of writing a crime novel? Good choice – it’s currently one of the nation’s most popular genres! But, this also means that the competition for publication is fierce. So, how do you write a cracking crime novel?

First let’s look at what crime fiction actually is. A definition of crime fiction is difficult as it encompasses a wide range of plot-lines. However, so that you have something to work from, a common definition is a story about someone who commits an immoral or illegal act being persued by another person who’s attempting to bring them to justice.

Now you know what you’re aiming for, follow the tips given below to improve your chances of getting into print. You may even get onto the bestseller list!

Tip 1. Read as many great crime novels as you can. Reading bestsellers is the best way to understand what makes a good crime novel. You’ll see how to create a great reveal, how to weave your characters together to ensure intriguing plots and create convincing characters. It’ll also help you decide what kind of crime novel you’d like to write. (See Different types of crime novel)

Tip 2. Don’t forget that the crime and the detection of that crime are the most important parts of the novel. Everything else is simply there to throw the reader off the trail – subplots and red herrings. Or it forms part of the back-story to help the reader understand the motives of the characters but, they must never become more important than the crime.

Tip 3. Get your facts right. If you set your crime novel in the past, you’ll only have the wits of the investigator to rely on to solve the crime – think Sherlock Holmes. And depending on when the crime took place, additionally might have fingerprint analysis. But, if you choose a contemporary setting for your novel there are high-tech detection procedures and forensic techniques to get your head around. Fortunately, the internet makes researching the facts of crime detection relatively easy. There are lots of websites you can use to find out the basics of how an investigation works and how a forensic investigation proceeds. You could even contact forensic experts to ensure you have the details correct. You should be thinking about:

  • DNA analysis
  • forensic anthropology and pathology
  • forensic criminology, psychiatry and psychology
  • fingerprinting
  • interviewing techniques
  • computer forensics 


Tip 4. Keep track. Make sure you keep careful notes on who has done what and when so that your writing doesn’t suffer from continuity errors. The best way to achieve this is to plan your novel thoroughly in advance, keeping notes on what characters perform what actions. This way you can refer back to the plan if you become unsure of who does what next.

Tip 5. Use real-life for the basis of your story. They say that fact is stranger than fiction so why not use a famous crime story, either from the past or present day, as a starting point for you plot? And, let’s face it, with the level of reporting that exists today, there’s plenty of source material for you to rummage through. If you choose this route, do make sure that you change enough detail to make the original story unrecognisable.

Use the above tips and you’ll be well on your way to having a cracking good crime novel.

So, if you’ve decided that you’d like to write a crime novel request a free copy of our Novel and Short Story Writing course prospectus with no obligation to enrol.


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Lizbeth Crawford"My debut novel, Hate To Love You, by Elise Alden (my pen name for contemporary and historical romance), received three offers of publication. I went with Harlequin Carina Press.

"So, thank you Writers Bureau, to which I am extremely grateful. The Novel and Short Story course gave me the tools I needed to write my first novel."

Lizbeth Crawford


Institute of Training and Occupational Learning

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