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How to Write Crime Stories and Murder Mysteries

Updated on April 19, 2018
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The author is a murder mystery junkie who has written more than a few criminal sentences of his own.


Crime Pays. The fictional kind, that is. Truth is, crime fiction is one of the most popular book genres going. The reading public just seem to have an insatiable appetite for murder.

You want to feed that need for crime? You want to write crime fiction? Well, let's investigate the genre and run through a few tips on how to write mysteries.

What Types of Crime & Mystery Writing Are There?

Here are some different types of crime fiction:

  • Cosy/Cozy. There has been a murder at an old, English manor. An elderly sleuth has assembled some suspects and is all set to announce who committed the crime. This is the world of cosy fiction: safe, middle-class, often set in the 1920s or 1930s. Popular writers of this type of story include Agatha Christie and Dorothy L.Sayers.
  • Hardboiled. While cosy detective fiction tends to shy away from sex and violence, hardboiled detective fiction does not. Tough graphic violence and unsentimental sex are commonplace in this genre. Popular writers of the genre include Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Walter Mosley
  • Police Procedural. These provide realistic portrayals of the actions of detectives investigating crimes. Popular writers of police procedurals include Ed McBain, Joseph Wambaugh and Ian Rankin.
  • Legal Thriller. This type of story revolves around the lawyers, their cases and courtroom dramas. Authors like John Grisham tackle this kind of story.

10 Tips for Crime Writers

#1 Pick a Place You Know. Setting is important. It helps if you choose a location that you know well for your crime story.

#2 Develop a Strong Character. There should be a protagonist, a person who drives the story. This is a character who the readers care about. They will only stick with the story if they care about what happens to them.

#3 Take Inspiration From Real Life. Real life most certainly can be stranger than fiction. Keep your eye on the news for real life crime stories which might spark your imagination. Don't just lift a story from the press and use it as it is. Make sure that you change enough detail so that the story becomes your own.

#4 Do Your Research. If you watch shows like C.S.I. you will know that forensics plays a major part in crime investigation these days. Try to find out as much as you can about this area. You want your story to be believable so you need to have an understanding of the procedures used by crime investigators today. It's a good idea to do some reading about the science behind modern crime investigation, from DNA testing to forgery to asphyxia. Even if you are not going to get knee-deep into the science of forensics, it is vital that you have a clear idea of how police investigations are actually carried out. Read books, websites and, if you know anybody who works in law enforcement, ask them some questions. The written word is all good and well, but often the best kind of research is simply talking to people.

#5 Keep Track Of The Plot. Plotting is a very important element of crime fiction. It is a good idea to plan your story in advance, making detailed notes about everything that happens at every stage in the story. Different people have different approaches to plotting. Some people use notebooks, write on whiteboards or use a system of small cards, a spreadsheet or the writing software Scrivener.

#6 Have Something To Say. You must have something that you really want to communicate with your readers. The best books are those which have a theme or message beneath the main story. Having a theme to your story makes for a deeper reading experience.

#7 Don't Tell The Reader Everything. If you want to create a sense of mystery in your story, hold things back. Don't reveal too much information too soon. Give the reader time to work things out for themselves. If you can, let them draw the wrong conclusion to begin with. Part of the thrill of reading mystery books is the feeling of surprise you feel at the end. Allow your reader to think one thing and then finally let them in on the secret.

#8 Work On A Good Ending. People read books to get to the end. Make sure they have something worth getting to. Your story should always be working to keep readers turning pages so that they get to that ending.

#9 Read Read Read. Read as many great crime novels as you possibly can. By reading the great crime writers you will get to the know the techniques that work, learn about good characterisation and understand what makes a good crime story. By reading the works of a variety of authors, you will also get a good sense of the type of crime fiction you want to write.

#10 Write Till Your Fingers Hurt. If you want to become a writer, you need to write, write and write some more. That's the only way you will improve. Some of what you write will be plain awful. Accept that. You don't get good without first being bad. It's a process. Keep going though. The more you write, the better you will get. The best way to become a successful writer - the best way to become a successful anything - is to work really, really hard.


Can I Make A Living As A Crime Writer?

If you want to become a best-selling author, there is no escaping the fact that luck plays a major part in most success stories. However, hard-work comes close second. If you work hard, write every day and revise your work until it is polished, there is no reason why you can not succeed as a crime writer.

When you have completed a manuscript you feel is ready, send it to an agent. If they like it, they will help you secure a good deal with a publisher. An alternative route is self-publishing. Although this once seen as a lesser route, these days many authors are gaining a decent living from self-publishing.

Whichever route you choose, good luck with your writing career.

Keep on writing.


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