write a crime novel

Writing a crime novel - 8 tips on how to give readers high tension

Almost 35,000 printed crime novels are available on the German book market, according to the Verzeichnis lieferbarer Bücher. By comparison, there are "only" about 20,000 titles in the romance genre. So the competition is fierce if you want to write a crime novel. But how do you write a crime novel that stands out and excites and motivates readers to read on?

What types of crime fiction are there?

A detective story almost always begins with a murder or a crime that is solved in the course of the plot. The crime novel is one of the largest and most popular genres in fiction, but it is also one of the most challenging genres when it comes to the book writing goes.

The subgenres of crime fiction include the classic Detective Novel. This was mainly coined by the 19th century writers Edgar Allen Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle with their heroes Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes. As the name suggests, a detective novel focuses on the investigator. This investigator usually has an extraordinary character. 

Another subcategory is the Spy Novel, which almost goes in the direction of thriller. The most famous figure from this genre is Ian Fleming's James Bond.

There is also the Political as well as the psychological thrillerThe focus in each case is on political or economic contexts or on a person with a disturbed personality.

Mention should also be made of the Roman Noirin which the world of the criminal is not clearly separated from the world of the investigator.

In this article, we will mainly focus on the classic crime novel, although the boundaries to other genres are often fluid. For example, a crime novel can contain elements of fantasy, science fiction or love story.

Writing crime fiction: How does it work?

A crime story in particular should be carefully planned. If you just start writing, you can easily get bogged down and lose sight of the plot and its entanglements. Against this help the basic idea, the crime plot, the structure of Voltage and Figures as well as thorough research. You want to write a medieval mystery? Then you could design the medieval setting of the book. Or you have an ending in mind? Then plot the events leading up to the murder backwards. There are many approaches to building your mystery novel.

Amaze your readers with an extraordinary idea

As with any genre, create a unique selling point that surprises your readers. This can be a special starting idea or an unusual investigator. Or the story takes place in a past or future time or in a special place. Current topics such as the environment or digitalization can also be integrated into a crime novel perfectly. Real-life crimes also provide good material on which you can base a crime novel.

To Inspiration to find your own ideas, it doesn't hurt to get ideas from other authors to help you determine how you want to write your crime novel. So the rule is: read, read, read. Of course, you shouldn't and shouldn't copy stories, but even great writers have taken inspiration from their peers.

How do I plan a detective story?

To write a suspenseful book, the mystery plot is crucial. With a pre-established thread, you can avoid logical errors. A timeline can be a help. It doesn't matter if you plot from the beginning or the end, from the characters or from the crime. On the timeline you can determine when which circumstances lead to the murder and the conviction of the perpetrator. This isn't about whether you tell your story linearly. Of course, readers don't immediately learn in the book what event in the perpetrator's childhood led to the murder. This only comes out as the investigator progresses through the plot. The timeline serves as a guide. This way you can keep track even while writing. You can make notes for each scene:

  • Which people are performing?
  • Time and place
  • What's happening?
  • What information is disclosed?

You can create a separate timeline for each character. This way, you can make sure that all the characters come together at the end for the finale and that there are no logical mistakes. You can record the relationships between the characters in a mind map or table.

Hint: Many authors use the so-called "plot" method to plan the course of the plot. Snowflake Method by author Randy Ingermanson.

How do you create suspense in a mystery novel?

There are different ways to build suspense in your mystery story. These can be flashbacks, which present the reader with tidbits of information about the events that led to the crime. However, these should be carefully dosed so that the reader does not lose the overview.

Or you can tell the story from the perpetrator's point of view. However, the perpetrator should not seem too unsympathetic, so that the reader can still identify with him or empathise with his motives, fears or predicaments.

Many authors send their readers on false trails to create suspense. At the end, the resolution comes with a moment of surprise. The reader should be stunned, but still feel that they could have come up with the solution themselves. After all, nothing is more unsatisfying than a frustrating ending in which, for example, the figure of the culprit does not appear until the last chapter or a piece of information crucial to solving the case is not revealed until the last minute.

Writing about authentic characters in crime fiction

Profound and believable characters are the basis for a convincing crime novel. Everything they do, think or say must be comprehensible to the reader. In this way, they identify with the protagonists and sympathize with the events. Believable is not the same as realistic. Even in an unrealistic world, characters can act appropriately to the setting.

The personality of the characters should be carefully planned, as should the plot, before you start writing crime fiction. Here help writing programs as Papyrus or ywriterwhere you can create personality profiles of your characters.

How do I do research for my mystery novel?

Even if your crime story is fictional, it must be comprehensible. For example, the court or pathology often play a role in a crime story. If you want to write something about this, you should read up on it thoroughly. Press releases from police departments or media coverage of crimes can help, and in the best case you can get assistance from a real pathologist or judge. It's not enough to just read other writers' crime novels, you also need specialist literature or first-hand information.

Especially when real people or historical events play a role, it is important to do good research. In a historical crime novel, you also have to pay attention to the situations that influenced the people of the time. How did people dress, what were their occupations and social customs? What inventions and techniques were already available at the time to solve crimes?

After writing the crime novel: editing and proofreading

When you've finished writing your crime novel after careful planning, developing authentic characters, and doing enough research, it's time to give it a thorough review. You yourself have been at it for days, months, or even years. One consequence of this is acute "operational blindness." You know your characters by heart, you know every move they've made, and you're so immersed in your narrative that you no longer notice inconsistencies or formal errors. That's why you should invest in editing and proofreading. Test readers among friends and acquaintances are also helpful to get initial feedback and to ensure that the crime novel has a logical and structured plot.

What should the crime novel cover look like?

The reader should know what they're getting when they first look at your book. The cover often determines whether the reader picks up the book or not. A certain mood can be created with it. Mostly the covers of crime novels are kept in dark and cold colors. Blood, destroyed objects or the murder weapon serve as motifs. Of course, you can break this system. For example, author Simon Beckett has kept his cover white and simple, so that it is more reminiscent of an obituary. The important thing is that the reader knows immediately that it is a crime novel. At Blurb The short description should build up suspense and make the reader curious. But don't give too much away!

Self-publish or publish the crime novel?

This is a question you should think about early in the creative process: Do you want to submit to publishers or take the publishing process into your own hands? If you decide to go with a publisher you should plan for a long lead time. For one thing, it's hard to get accepted in the popular genre, and for another, the time until publication is often up to a year.

At Self-Publishing on the other hand, you can get started right away. You have the layout, the typesetting and the marketing in your own hands, but you can also get assistance from different service providers or get our book typesetting program.


If you want to write a crime novel, you should look for a niche because of the great competition. Current and controversial topics provide material for a story, but you can also set the thriller in a foreign world or another time. The important thing is that you yourself are passionate about the topic and have a desire to write.

Take enough time for detailed planning. Make lists or use one of the popular authoring software programs to create a logical plot, suspense, deep characters, and a believable ending. You should carefully research all background information. This way, you will be able to create authentic connections and keep your reader hooked on your thriller.


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