Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper
Crime scene

Crime scene

How to write a crime novel (plus literary events from 1 Oct 2019)

In the UK, sales of crime novels have increased more than any other genre so how about writing one? From how to start, through planning protagonists and structure Angela J. Phillip goes in search of tips for writing the perfect crime novel.

It is satisfying to read a crime novel – you can have the pleasure of solving the mystery and, usually, the satisfaction of seeing the baddies punished and the good triumph. What a pleasant change from real life! Here’s how to write one.

Begin by writing notes on the items detailed below so that the main elements are clear in your head. Even if these change as you write (and they probably will), you need to get some things planned before you start. Then follow the rest of the instructions and within a few months, your crime story will be complete.

gun2-220pixThe Crime
What was the crime?
Where was the crime committed?
How was it done?
What led up to it?

clocks-220pixTime and setting
When describing your setting, include elements that you are going to need for your story. You might need witnesses, or someone may have dropped something, a clock might be crucial, for example.

Do not include elements that don’t matter. For example, if the weather is glorious but not relevant in any other way, you can mention it to create atmosphere, but don’t provide a long description. The elements you include should all be useful to your story in some way or another.

The temptation to include distracting incidents that are not followed through as part of the story is a common beginner’s mistake in crime writing.

On the other hand, distracting incidents that are picked up and developed help to keep your readers on edge. You can play out these incidents one after the other so that the reader experiences the story like riding waves of the sea. Up and down. Up and down but each time try to take the reader a little higher.

Make the crime scene as detailed as possible so that your reader can see it clearly and pick out any clues there might be.

Make them realistic with pasts and motivations that are at play in the story. If your characters are two-dimensional, the reader won’t care what happens to them.

If any protagonist seems completely ‘good’ or completely ‘bad’ they are unbelievable. Make your characters detailed so that it is clear (by the end at least) why they have acted in the way that they have.

Make sure there is more than one suspect. When I read a crime story, I look for the person least likely to have committed the crime and this is often the villain – but not always. You have to keep your reader interested. Make everyone suspicious if possible, but don’t overdo it. Better still, frame one suspect after another to keep your reader guessing.

It will be a better story if your reader cannot guess who the villain is. If you make it obvious early on, there will be no reason to keep reading.

There are, of course, other kinds of crime story. You might tell your reader at the beginning who committed the crime but it is the other protagonists who have to find out who it is. Or everyone knows who committed the crime but the story involves uncovering the reasons for the crime, exploring the characters involved and what made them behave as they did.

In all cases, you have to hold the attention of your readers. Don’t let them put the book down at the end of a chapter. Don’t let them stop reading at any point. Keep them guessing until the end.

poison-220pixMake a plan of the action.
Inciting incident
Development of action
Minor climax & tension release
Development of action
Major climax & tension release

Write chapter 1, then stop and plan your sections and chapters.
First of all, decide roughly how many chapters you think you will need for each section of the action. It doesn’t matter if this changes, but it’s helpful to have a rough guide to start with.

Write a one-sentence description for each chapter remembering that each one should finish on a mini cliff-hanger. You need to give your reader a reason to keep reading. If everything is fine, there is no incentive to read on.

stopwatch-220pixWrite the first draft of your novel.
Don’t get it right, get it written. Don’t worry about beautiful prose and scintillating dialogue, just get it all down in some rough form. Make yourself write so many words a day, say 1,000. (For a novel of 70,000 words, that would be about two and a half months.) When you’ve finished jump around the room, shout out loud and give yourself the nicest reward you can think of.

Read and edit.
First of all, look at parts that don’t make sense e.g. has the villain got clear blue eyes in chapter 2 but smokey brown ones in chapter 7.
Secondly, read to check structure and shape. Do some parts need to be cut or expanded?
Thirdly, check the quality of your writing and make it as good as you can.
Fourthly, you need to proof-read to check for typos, grammatical errors etc.

Send it out to beta-readers to give you feedback.
These readers shouldn’t be family and close friends because they will find it hard to be impartial. The most useful feedback is constructive criticism.
Action any criticism in the feedback you feel is useful.

And there you go, you’ve finished it!
Well done! Now all you have to do is get it published….. Good luck, dear writer. Please let me know how you get on and whether these tips were of any use. Do you have any advice for other writers?

More writing help
We’re getting close to November. It’s National Novel Writing Month. Have a look at NaNoWriMo’s website. All kinds of help are on offer for writers and there is a writing community all set to give you every encouragement.

You may also find the following articles helpful:
Six top tips for writing crime fiction – National Centre for Writing
How to write crime stories – WikiHow
Stories that kill: 7 tips for writing crime – The Creative Penn

And here’s a competition.
The Lindisfarne prize for debut crime fiction.


Hastings Storytelling Festival
5 – 9 October 2019
See the website for details.

Meet the writer – Susan Evans, performance poet
Tuesday 8 October, 6.30 – 7.30 pm at The Hastings Contemporary, Rock-a-Nore Rd TN34 3DW
Tickets are free but you need to book – click here.

Bookbuster 39 Queens Rd, Hastings
Thursday 24 October 6 – 9 pm £2 entry Sheer Poetry: An open mic poetry night
Go to Bookbuster’s Facebook page and see more.

Printed Matter Bookshop 185 Queens Rd, Hastings TN34 1RG
14 Oct 2019 6 pm: Book launch of Robin Young’s Dhanmondi Road – see article.
Jan 2020: Book launch of Paul Anderson’s Suedeheads & film screening of Horace Ove’s ‘Reggae 1970’ at The Electric Palace Cinema, Old Town.

The Bookkeeper Bookshop 1a Kings Rd, St Leonards
Come and look at their Facebook page to see what’s happening.

The Literary Shed Writing Circle run by A. Vasudevan
Two-hour weekly writing sessions in safe, creative spaces in Hastings and St Leonards
Tuesday 8 October from 10–12 am (free) at Sea Kale, 29 London Rd, Saint Leonards-on-sea TN37 6AJ 
For further information, please email:, subject: WRITE-INS.


Well, folks, that’s it for this week. I hope you’ve all had a good week and that your projects are going well.

For an update on my writing, please see:  The Inside Story.

For a selection of other posts on my writing journey, please see

Thanks for reading and happy writing.

Angela J. Phillip

Images taken from and


Posted 09:00 Tuesday, Oct 1, 2019 In: Hastings Bookchat

Also in: Hastings Bookchat

More HOT Stuff

    HOT is run by volunteers but has overheads for hosting and web development. Support HOT!


    Advertise your business or your event on HOT for as little as £20 per month
    Find out more…


    If you like HOT and want to keep it sustainable, please Donate via PayPal, it’s easy!


    Do you want to write, proofread, edit listings or help sell advertising? then contact us

  • Subscribe to HOT