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How to write a crime novel

Pauline Rowson discusses how to write a crime novelThere are many different types of crime novels ranging from gritty gruesome, cozy comfortable to cops, robbers and gangsters, racy, action-packed thrillers, historical or contemporary crime novels, detective or private eye and many more variations in between.

Then there is the setting: the city, the sea, countryside, mountains, home or abroad. So there is plenty of scope to work with and the type of crime novel you decide to write is often linked to the type of crime novel you like to read.

Silent Running an Art Marvik crime novel by Pauline RowsonI write what have been termed as 'police procedurals' or 'detective novels' with my DI Andy Horton series, but I also write thrillers, In Cold Daylight and In For The Kill, and a variation on a 'private-eye' style crime novel but with lots of action in a new series featuring former marine commando, Art Marvik, introduced in Silent Running Marvik will appear again in the second of the series, Dangerous Cargo which is being published in Spring 2016. With Marvik I wanted a character who was not bound by the official rules of the law, like my flawed and rugged detective, DI Andy Horton, but who was nevertheless on the right side of it and who goes out to solve complex crimes and catch ruthless killers.

Fatal Catch, a DI Andy Horton Mystery Crime Novel by Pauline RowsonSilent Running also had to have all the hallmarks of my brand – a troubled hero, the sea, boats, interesting and diverse characters and lots of action. There are now eleven published in the DI Andy Horton series set in the Solent area, with number twelve Fatal Catch being published by Severn House in September 2015.

My crime novels have contemporary settings and are set around the sea. The DI Andy Horton crime novels are set in the Solent area and the Marvik novels along the South Coast of England.

So here are a few pointers to help you get started or hopefully provide you with more guidance on writing a crime novel.

1. Choose your location/s - it can be real or fictitious but it must have atmosphere.
Listen and watch the video on choosing a location and the journey to becoming a published crime writer.

2. Choose your type of crime story - detective, thriller, private eye (you might find that as you write your type begins to choose you!)

I believe that you should write what you are enthusiastic about because it will show in your writing, and even if you don't have first hand experience of what you are writing about then you will be keen to research it. Read more on choosing what to write

You also need some additional qualities. Read more on the qualities needed to become a crime writer.

3.Choose who is going to be your main character or characters

Flesh them out. Know their backgrounds, hang ups, personality, motivations. Creating a likeable, interesting and complex main character, one the reader can have empathy with, one they want to trust, feel his/her pain and disappointments, root for throughout the story is the key to creating a riveting read and a successful crime novel or series. Read more on developing an creating characters.

But it's not just the main character it's also the supporting cast, the villains and the walk-on parts who all need characteristics that are believable even if they are eccentric. The cast must be real to the writer and therefore real to the reader

4. Choosing and mastering viewpoint - whose story is it?

Viewpoint is one of the most difficult aspects for new writers to grasp, and sometimes even established writers struggle with this. Whose story is it i.e. from whose viewpoint are you telling the story? You might think it is fairly obvious that it is the protagonist’s story but is it his (or hers) alone, or do you need to switch to telling the story from another character’s viewpoint i.e. is it single viewpoint or multiple viewpoint? Read more on mastering viewpoint

You might also like to read this on choosing viewpoint.

5. Do your research - but don't get too hung up on it so that you never actually start writing the novel.

Writing isn't just pounding away on a keyboard. Creating a novel requires more. There is, of course, the research which can be desk research conducted via the internet, books and newspapers, and secondary research, which involves talking to the experts and visiting locations. There is also thinking time. Read more on research.

6. Write, write and write. Nothing happens until your characters start speaking, moving and doing things. They may surprise you.

7. What comes first plot or character? The answer is that the two are so interlinked it is difficult to say. The characters drive the plot but in order to create the characters you must have an idea what the plot is about. Read more on plot and character

8. Revise, revise, revise...The first draft is just that, it is not the finished novel. Take time to edit it and then re-edit it as thoroughly as you can. Read more on writing first drafts

Shroud of Evil - DI Andy Horton crime novel by Pauline RowsonMy crime novels are available as e books, in hardcover, paperback and some are available in Large Print and as audio books. You can also borrow them from libraries in the UK, USA and the Commonwealth.

Shroud of Evil - An Inspector Andy Horton crime novel

"A compelling protagonist and mounting suspense make the book hard to put down." Publishers Weekly

Watch the video

Pauline Rowson in conversation with Tony Smith about writing a crime novel

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JULY 22ND, 2015 @ 6:07:07 BST


RE: How to write a crime novel

I`m plotting my first contemporary mystery, not ghostwritten (have done historical/futuristic ones) and I`m trying to get the structure/character/research right. Thank you for this great info.


RE: How to write a crime novel

You are very welcome. Glad you find it helpful.Good luck with the novel.


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