The Killer Guide To Writing Crime Fiction


So you've decided you want to write Crime Fiction.

Crime Fiction is Plot Driven

Types of Crime Fiction.



Police Procedural


Future Hubs and community invite

So you've decided to write Crime Fiction.

Before you go rushing off with pen and paper in hand, lets take a few moments to decide if this genre is right for you.

Firstly believe it or not, a crime features in almost every work of literature you will come across. Look for example at Shakespere, the works of Thomas Hardy, I'm thinking of Tess ot the D'Urbevilles here, Jane Austen, Dickens, the list goes on and on.

But these novels, although a crime features in them are not specifically crime novels.

So what makes a novel a work iof crime fiction?

The crime and detection of that crime are CENTRAL to the novel. Everything else is merely window dressing, subplot and red herrings designed to fool the reader into not guessing the perpetrator until the very ending of the book.

Crime Fiction is Plot Driven.

What do I mean by this?. You will read this in loads of books and the explanations they will give you are usually very complex or obscure.

Put very simply, a plot-driven novel is one where things happen.

Yes it's that simple.

Let's take the example of a bit of "cosy" crime fiction. (Don't worry, I'll explain about the term "cosy" in the next section.

A body is found in a Library. Some busybody old lady interviews everyone, comes to conclusions and solves the murder before the police do.

Simple isn't it? Yet Agatha Christie's Miss Marple is famous worlwide and has been turned into countless TV and film adaptations.

Now lets turn to "hardboiled" crime fiction writing.

Hardboiled crime fiction, as exemplified by the Raymond Chandler school of writing is usually told in the first person, that is by the lead character. The basic plot runs as follows.

Detective sits in office, someone enters, she (it's usually a woman who the detective doesn't like) usually has a problem. detective agrees to help, usually unwillingly. He then has toi investigate, usually at great risk to himself, (Hidden enemies are usually trying to kill him) until the mystery is solved.

Again, a little more complex but in escence still a simple idea. Again, Sam Spade and the Maltese Falcon are best sellers.This led to the mystery or suspense genre style of crime fiction.

Every plot starts with a premise such as the two examples above.

Lets start by looking at types of crime fiction available on the market today.

Types of Crime Fiction


Middle-Class England in the '20's and 30's. An age when the middle-classes seemed to hold sway over England. Yet they had fears and worries. Chief aming these was the fear of crime. The underclasses were percieved as a growing threat, socialism and a new world order were taking root in Russia . The middle classes needed something to assure that everything was cosy in their little sheltered world of English Villages and tea on the lawn.

Murder was never described in graphic detail and the cosy world was never really in any danger because the middle-class detective would piece together the puzzle until the final denoument when the criminal was unmasked. usually by all the suspecgts being gathered together in one place for the final unveiling. Then after all that, middle-class England could return to its middle-class ways knowing that justice had been done.

The reader could also attempt to unravel the clues as the book unfolded and this helped the reader to have a sense of security knowing that their mind was superior to that of the crimal portrayed in the book.

Often derided, the cosy form of crime fiction writing has now had somewhat of a resurgence due to writers ( and readers ) getting bored with serial killers, autopsies and too much forensic information.

Read Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers,

Hardboiled Crime Fiction

The world of Raymond Chandler.

Have you ever wondered why so many films are set in Los Angeles? It is because of Raymond Chandlers writing about the seamier side of the city. His anti-Hero Philip Marlowe is a down- at heel private detective who lives in the shadowy world of gangsters, their molls and constant danger. He is not averse to being on the other side of the law. Something that would be unheard of in an English cosy crime novel.

None of your puzzle solving here. More than just a crime novellist, Chandler crossed over into the thriller genre. Life is tough on the streets and gets tougher throughout the books.

Chandler rebelled against the customary cosy format, realising that US readers would not relate to the world of Middle Class England as typified by Agatha Christie.

his success can be judged by the fact that every one of his full-length novels was made into a film by Hollywood.

Police Procedural

Follows the works of detectives as they hunt for the perpetrators of crime. Usually very detailed and relying heavily on the inter relationships between officers, station gossip and the like as sub-plots to the genre.

A modern tendency is to involve some kind of serial killer or psychopath who causes mayhem usually be committing gruesome murders and the police have to stop him before he strikes again and again..

I would advise against this.


The resergance of the cosy genre, indicates that the market is once again rebelling against the accepted norms. Everyone has a serial killer in their books. Every detective has marital problems. Every chief officer is female and what is more is a lesbian. this is not a diatribe against lesbians it is just that once again, these topics have been done to death and the market is looking for something fresher.

Likewise, the autopsy. Kay Scarpetta, Patricia Cornwell's hero is a pathologist and pathology gets ever more cliche'd in the mind of the public. Treat with caution. Silent Witness is autopsy gone mad. We don't need the police to investigate, the case is solved in the morgue.

Modern Authors include Ian Rankin - inspector Rebus

Stephen Booth DC Cooper and DS Fry

Hill Street Blues is the most typical US TV show for this type of series. I love it.


Courtroom Drama.

The Master of the genre, John Grisham writes about lawyers. It's something he knows well. if you have a grounding in the law, it may be wise to write in this sub-genre.

Again, beware of cliché. The man sentenced to death for a crine he didn't commit is hackneyed to say the least. Find a new twist to the courtroom scene and you have a winner.

Another thing to watch for is getting bogged down in legal technicalities. fine for the lawyers but boring for the reader.

Ali McBeal is the greatest example of TV courtroom drama there is. Learn from the writing and fresh approach to the classic courtroom drama.

Future hubs and my community.

Future hubs will continue on this theme.

The next hub I plan to write is on plotting for the crime novel as i use some pretty unorthodox techniques to achieve proper structure for what the current market is looking for.


If you are a budding crime writer, please join our ning community.

You get your own page, forums, a place to host video and photos, groups to match your own speciality or you can create your own.

Plus it's a great place to meet new friends who are of a like mind.

Just click on the link below.

Comments 25 comments

Princessa profile image

Princessa 8 years ago from France

Very informative, I enjoyed reading this!

Mark Bennett profile image

Mark Bennett 8 years ago from Citizen of the Globe

I couldn't possibly write one of those things, but I have great admiration for those who do. Hats off to you!

Inspirepub profile image

Inspirepub 8 years ago from Sydney, Australia

Hey, John, this looks like a good foundation for a series. Have you checked out the series cjcs did on developing a story? Well worth a read.

bobw profile image

bobw 8 years ago from Laurel, DE

John, Good Read! Thanks

Lou Belcher profile image

Lou Belcher 7 years ago

Good summary of sub-genres. Thanks

zee 7 years ago

Thanks for the great tips!

zee 7 years ago

Thanks for the great tips!

zee 7 years ago

Thanks for the great tips!

scheng1 7 years ago

Actually I find that Kathy Reichs is better than Patricia Cornwell, in terms of forensic thriller. PD James is a better author than Agatha Christie. Her books have soul and reach deep into our heart.

crimewriter john profile image

crimewriter john 7 years ago from Chesterfield UK Author

Love Kathy Reichs. Tempe Brennen really knowd her stuff as you'd expect from an authoress who actually does the job.

I think it may be a bit unfair to compare Ruth and Agatha, both are primarily crimes for the reader to try and solve but tyimes have changed and characterisation is now more important than it was in Agatha Christie's day. Still, each to their own...

Anon 7 years ago

Why so many typos? Sheesh!

crimewriter john profile image

crimewriter john 7 years ago from Chesterfield UK Author

yes you are right anon. I have just had an eye op so I don't see too well at the moment... lol

lovecrime 6 years ago

I disagree with the opinion that readers are sick of serial killers and forensics. I can't get enough of this type of novel. Mo Hayder is my favourite but there are other greats. Simon Becket's good and Karen Slaughter.

MR.POINT OF VIEW profile image

MR.POINT OF VIEW 6 years ago from Planet Earth

You know your stuff.

Emir 5 years ago

Read James Patterson. All of his books are excellent

MR. PRASHANT YADAV 5 years ago

very useful to get overall view of crime writing.

Antonio Chavez 5 years ago

Thanks for the tips and all the information, Im writing my own crime comic called ''Night and the city'' and all of your tips have come very handy, thank you so much, continue the good job.

Boris 5 years ago

Link to the Crimewriters Network does not work

kashee 4 years ago

Umm hi love crime books...

Vishnu Suresh 4 years ago


Bobby 4 years ago

I feel like you should maybe proof read your article before posting it. I couldn't get past the spelling errors and grammar mistakes. Sorry, I'm an a$$h*l3.

vk sharma 4 years ago

I have been writing crime fiction for INIDIAN TV. Very happy to read your article. Would like to try some of your suggestions in my work also.

Thanks and Regds.

vk sharma

ashley meme 4 years ago

thanks a lot . i am 14 and i am currently trying to write on a crime mystery novel .this article is very useful

M Kempher 4 years ago

What is the different between a crime novel and a mystery?

Janet H 4 years ago

I don't think its a case of readers being sick of serial killers and forensics. My objection is more to the (mostly) US thriller novelists who seem to churn out their books like a factory. They seem to stick to a successful formula and then just vary it a little.

I also am a fan of Mo Hyden (THE TREATMENT, my favourite) and Karen Slaughter (US based) I think writes very well. But its actually the thrillers from the golden age I am enjoying the most. Desmond Cory, Le Carre, Len Deighton - they just vary their stories so much that each book is enjoyable - a lesson for future writers, I would say.

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