The Crime Writers’ Association

Writing Crime Fiction by Kelvin I Jones

Here’s the scenario. You have read crime fiction for some years. You have watched and enjoyed crime series on TV and you think you might write a crime novel – or even series! What exactly do you need to know before you start your first novel?

Here is a question even before you put pen to paper: having read a bestselling crime novel, can you explain why it’s a best seller? What is it about this book that makes it popular with so many readers? The truth is simple: an author connects with the hearts and souls of his/her readers. And isn’t it true that the most absorbing novels you have read – whether crime or otherwise – are concerned with the fascination of character. Let’s think for a moment about some of those writers. Ruth Rendell, P. D. James, Ian Rankin, Colin Dexter, James Ellroy… Each one of them tells us in fascinating ways the story of what happens to the characters they have invented and in such a way that we never forget it. We read those novels and maybe re-read them because the characters obsess us.

Of course, there is a great deal more to it than that. And there is absolutely no guarantee that anyone is necessarily going to be a bestselling author! But there is a chance that a new writer might publish a crime novel not at all like any of the other crime novels which appear on the shelves of large book chain stores.

What then would you need to know before putting pen to paper?

Here are some of the elements which make up a successful crime novel.

  1. The writing must excite your reader and never bore him or her.
  2. The novel must aim to provoke, mystify and challenge the reader.
  3. There must be a sense of pace in your narrative. Tell the story through the mouths of your characters where possible.
  4. You must inform the reader, but do this in a way that seems effortless.
  5. The prose should aim to be both simple but effective. Cut out the crap in other words!
  6. You must have a story in mind that entertains and intrigues the reader. A story about the extremes of human behaviour.

Sounds difficult? Yet with application and an awareness of how you are writing and developing your narrative, it could be easier than you might think.

Kelvin I. Jones has been a prolific UK crime and supernatural fantasy writer for over a quarter of a century. 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. He 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, Headbanger, will appear on Amazon in paperback and ebook in December 2017.

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