The Crime Writers’ Association

Crime Writing Tip Two: Definitions, by Kelvin I Jones

Let’s start at the beginning by asking ourselves the questions: what is crime fiction and why choose to write it? The first question is perhaps the simplest of the two.

Crime fiction is a genre of fiction which deals with crime. Obvious? It may be, but if we explore a little further it becomes less simple than we might imagine. If you asked the question: what are the central themes of crime fiction, you might come up with these themes: love, death and danger. The problem with that is that any type of mainstream fiction you might have read also deals with one or all of those themes. Consider a Jacobean tragedy, for example: love, danger and death all apply. Yet a Jacobean tragedy is not a crime novel. The fact is that it is almost impossible to say when a crime novel is a crime novel and when it is not Bleak House by Charles Dickens.

There is a theory among psychiatrists that the crime novel is a literary vehicle which attempts to use reason to explain that which is irrational. W. H. Auden believed that the murderer in a crime novel was a scapegoat figure who redeemed the Edenic community which is humanity. That may or may not be true. Yet it is true that the crime novel is also a literary form which has to do with guilt and its expiation. The crime novel has suffered much at the hands of critics in the past, yet today it has come into its own as a form of what is essentially mainstream fiction. The crime novel also has to do with – and this is especially true of contemporary crime novels – the relationship between our conscious and unconscious selves, or what Freud defined as the ‘ego’ and the ‘id’.

That is a tricky thing to, I hear you cry, but is it really? How do I activate my subconscious and feed it to the page. Simple answer: don’t stifle the dark in there, let it out. Be prepared to think of plots and characters which fascinate you, for whatever reason. The crime novel is essentially about the tussle between the forces of dark and light. In your story either one can succeed…

Kelvin I. Jones has been a prolific UK crime and supernatural fantasy writer for over a quarter of a century. Born in Kent in 1948, he is equally at home writing poetry, plays and novels. He has published six books about Sherlock Holmes and the only definitive study of Conan Doyle’s interest in spiritualism, as well as numerous articles about the Victorian detective (see R De Waal’s Universal Sherlock Holmes, online edition, 2000). Kelvin is the author of the Stone Dead series, featuring the intrepid Cornish detective, John Bottrell, and the Inspector Ketch stories, which are set in Norfolk. The latest Ketch novel is Headbanger. See Kelvin’s website at

Join the CWA

Become part of a thriving community of successful crime writers with invaluable support, expertise and marketing opportunities for all our members.

Advertise with us