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How to write a crime novel or crime short story

Blog updated 15 April 2020- originally published 15 April 2018

Pauline Rowson with DI Andy Horton Lethal WavesThere are many different types of crime novels and crime short stories ranging from gritty gruesome, cosy 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 or short story you decide to write is often linked to the type of crime novel you like to read.

I never set out to write what have been termed in the USA 'police procedurals' but there are now fourteen published in the DI Andy Horton series with number fifteen, A DEADLY WAKE,  published on 2 June 2020 and available for pre-order. I've also written three mystery thrillers featuring undercover investigator, Art Marvik and two stand alone crime novels, In Cold Daylight and In For The Kill.

Most of my crime novels have contemporary settings but in 2019 I branched out into writing historical crime fiction with the first in a 1950s set mystery series featuring Scotland Yard detective, Inspector Alun Ryga, who is sent out to solve coastal crimes. The first DEATH IN THE COVE is set on the Isle of Portland, Dorset and the second DEATH IN THE HARBOUR, set in Newhaven, East Sussex, will be published in November 2020.  My novels are set around the sea, my brand or trademark if you like, and the Inspector Andy Horton mysteries are based in the Solent area where I live on the south coast of England.

So here are a few pointers to help you get started.

Tips for writing a crime novel or short story

1. Choose your location - it can be real or fictitious.
2. Choose your type of crime story - detective, thriller, private eye ( you might find that as you write your type begins to choose you!)
3. If writing a short story think about a theme or message you want to get across.
4. Choose who is going to be your main character or characters (Note: In the short story don’t have more than two main characters otherwise it will be difficult to write and difficult to read).
5. Flesh them out. Know their backgrounds, hang ups, personality, motivations.
5. Do your research - but don't get too hung up on it so that you never actually start writing the novel.
6. Write, write and write. Nothing happens until your characters start speaking, moving and doing things.
7. Revise, revise, revise...

More tips on writing a good crime short story

1. It should be well written with a truly surprising ending.
2. You need to plant clues throughout the crime short story – not too many but just enough to get the reader thinking.
3. One critical piece of information is usually held back until just before the ending.
4. The best stories are those that have a theme/message and are firmly based on character.
5. Beginning: the main character is introduced immediately, so is the tone and setting and the problem
6. Middle: Build the motivation and tension.
7. The climax – this is the worst possible moment of the story.
8. The ending
9. In the short story there should be unities of time, place and action which means that the story should take place over a very short space of time, in the same place and ideally through the main character’s eyes. This results in tight construction and a successful short story.

Good luck.

Dead Passage an Inspector Andy Horton crime novel by Pauline RowsonDead Passage is published in paperback, as an ebook and on Amazon Kindle.

A mysterious telephone call sends Horton on a complex and twisted investigation into the death of a local politician twelve years ago and uncovers a trail of lies, secrets and revenge with roots deep in the past. 

"A detective novel in the tradition of Rankin and Harvey." Mystery People Magazine 

Pauline Rowson's crime novels are available in paperback,as e books, on Amazon Kindle and Kobo, as unabridged audio books and in large print.

This article was originally published in 2012, was updated in 2018 and in 2020.

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APRIL 15TH, 2017 @ 6:32:10 BST

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