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Writing crime fiction - what does it take to write a crime novel?

Pauline RowsonMany articles on how to write a crime or mystery novel focus on the technicalities and practicalities but few examine the emotional roller coaster that a writer will experience in the crafting of a novel. Each stage of writing a crime novel brings with it a range of different emotions. These range from excitement and frustration, to relief, doubt and fear, plus a whole lot in between. So if you experience any of these while plotting and writing your novel you are not alone!

I start with an idea, which is often a location and a victim and I might have some idea of a theme for my crime novel, for example in DI Andy Horton mystery SHROUD OF EVIL it is the corrosive nature of secrets and how keeping them can lead to murder. In DI ANDY HORTON mystery DEATH SURGE and in my 1950 set historical mystery DEATH IN THE COVE it is about how a childhood act or misdemeanor can have far reaching and murderous repercussions in the future. Eager to begin writing I don't wait until I have a complete outline. I don't even wait until I have conducted all my research and I certainly have no idea at this stage who the killer is and why.

Pauline RowsonExcitement then is the first emotion for me when beginning a new crime novel as I work up an outline and some character sketches. I conduct some research and more ideas begin to flow. I can't wait to get started and do so as soon as I possibly can often within a week or two of coming up with the basic idea or theme.

Next follows frustration. Many writers find writing the first draft frustrating and a bit of a pain. I have mixed emotions about it. I thoroughly enjoy the buzz generated by the flow of the creative juices but I often wish I could wave a magic wand and that first draft would be dumped directly from my brain onto my computer without all the effort of having to key it in.

I, like many writers, try to write the first draft as quickly as possible, with minimal editing because that slows down the process. While writing the first draft I'll also be conducting more research

Then once that first draft is written, and I have some 80,000 or so words on my PC, then comes a sense of relief. The first draft usually takes me about three months. The outline is there, the characters are drawn albeit sketchily, the grammar is imperfect and indeed a great deal of it is rubbish but it is something to work on.

Now I can turn to the revisions and can relax a little. I will go back through the novel and begin to flesh it out further, check the structure, the clues, red herrings, motivations and personalities of the characters. This may take several revisions and often further research until finally I check that everything hangs together, all the unanswered questions have been answered and that the words and phrases used are the correct ones.

Then come the anxiety and doubts. Could I change this chapter, this scene, this phrase or word? Could I improve the entire novel, perhaps I should re-write the wretched thing. Help! By now I am so close to it that it is difficult to be objective.

And finally fear. Having gone through several revisions (usually eight) I'm now at the stage where I feel I can no longer change anything. It is as good as it's going to get and I desperately need a fresh eye over it. With a rapidly beating heart, hesitating for several minutes my finger poised over the send message button, I take a deep breath and off it goes into the ether to my editor.

But there is no time to relax; it's on with the next novel while waiting with a certain amount of anxiety to see if my editor likes my latest offering.

To recap then many writers pass through several emotions while plotting and writing a crime novel - excitement, frustration, relief, relaxation, anxiety, fear, doubts. But hopefully it is all worth it in the end and you and your readers will enjoy your escape into crime fiction.

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JUNE 29TH, 2020 @ 6:01:55 BST


RE: Writing crime fiction - what does it take to write a crime novel?

Thanks for the briefing. I also begin my novels before I know the entire story. ALWAYS something happens--unknown to me early on--to change the novel`s journey. I will write scenes that come to me. Maybe they`ll be used; maybe not.
I want to thank you for your article. I look forward to reading your novels.


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