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Writing detective fiction - tips 2

Updated on April 20, 2010

What should detective fiction include?

In my previous detective writing tip hub a lot of the advice was attempting to help would be authors avoid pit falls. Making the process as easy and as straight forward as possible. Making sure the writer was not side tracked by themes that would transform their work away from being a detective novel. This hub will try and focus on elements of the novel to include - rather than exclude.

First and foremost you must have a dead body. Ant other crime simply lacks the seriousness to not only compel a reader but also to justify a detectives curiosity. Would Poirot or Holmes be interested in a case of shop lifting? Would you want to read about the great Sherlock spending 300 pages catching a shop lifter? Death immediately justifies a detectives interest and also captures our own morbid fascination.

This brings us onto the second essential element - a strong plot. Make the story about the twists and turns of the plot. Most of the great crime fiction authors have always relied on an extremely strong and thorough plot. Reading Christie, Conan Doyle or Flemming is always a great place to start. Marple, Poirot and Holmes all have fantastic, if not slightly formulaic, plot outlines. essentially the stories often tend to start with an example of the detectives brilliance, an illustration of Holmes' powers are found within the first chapter of any book. We are then introduced to the main players, the cast upon whom the shadow of suspicion will fall at some point in the story. The victim, the murderer and often a long lost child will be introduced within the first couple of chapters. The following 5 or 6 chapters after the crime will build the readers belief that they have identified the culprit through logical, reasonably obvious and slightly ambiguous clues. Also the reader will be presented with a minor clue that is overlooked or dismissed, which will become pivotal later in the story. Of course the climax will reveal the twist, the overlooked clue and of course the culprit; who must 'come clean' and explain, or rather confirm, his motives.

Throughout the story there will be a subplot; normally a lost relative or minor crime being committed. This subplot will often provide a source the 'red herring' clues through the novel and of course will be revealed and resolved within the climax of the story.

The final element to add is that of a human factor. Conan Doyle identified the perfect platform from which to add the human element: Dr Watson. The great Holmes would have been far to brilliant for the reader to be expected to follow however, Watson was always somewhat 'bumbling' often coming to the wrong conclusion - the perfect character to act as the readers eyes. Of course the extra brilliance of Watson is that it Watson would often fins the pivotal clue; without realising its importance, and therefore he becomes essential to finding the solution of the mystery.

Overall Detective fiction should be simple and once you have found the formulae of the genre writing enjoyable detective fiction will be a delight.



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