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Mastering the Art of Crime Writing: Tips and Techniques to Enhance Your Craft

Books are hard enough to write. Add in writing a crime thriller, suspense, or mystery, and you have upped the ante. Writing any kind of crime fiction novel involves a combination of mystery, crime, and scientific investigation. And the scientific part needs to be accurate. Here are some tips to help you create a gripping crime thriller:


1. Research Extensively in Order to Create Realistic Forensic Procedures:

  1. Invest time in researching forensic procedures, crime scene investigations, and the latest advancements in forensic science. Accuracy adds credibility to your story. While you can take creative liberties, ensure that your portrayal of forensic procedures is rooted in reality. Consult experts or read case studies to understand the intricacies of forensic work. This is the most important advice I can give you.

  2. Knowing things like how to approach an active crime scene, what procedures take place first, and how the samples are collected, stored, and then tested can go a long way into bringing your reader into the story and keeping them captivated.

  3. If you are going to mention a firearm in your book, make sure you know the weapon and how or if it ejects the casing. Hint…revolvers don’t eject anything. I can’t tell you how many books I have read where the author says, ‘the casing was ejected from the revolver’…so wrong. Also, the barrel of every gun is unique to that specific firearm. There will be unique markings or striations left on a bullet as it travels down the barrel. This is how a bullet found at a crime scene can be matched to a particular weapon.

  4. Use Technology Wisely: Incorporate technology realistically. Whether it's DNA analysis, digital forensics, or other high-tech methods, make sure you understand how these tools work and portray them accurately.

  5. Develop a Strong Protagonist:

  • Create a compelling forensic expert or detective as your main character. Make sure they have unique skills, flaws, and a backstory that adds depth. You should always strive to develop a compelling protagonist. However, when it comes to detective stories, the background of your protagonist will play a huge part in why they do what they do and how they go about it.

  • Another point that should be made here, your protagonist doesn’t have to be a detective. You can choose from a crime scene photographer, criminologist, forensic toxicologist, or even an ME. I have a post that goes over these and other jobs that can make for a great protagonist. Check it out here.

  • Humanize Characters: Even if your story involves a lot of technical details, remember to humanize your characters. Readers should care about the people involved in solving the crime. This goes along with developing your character. Giving your character an emotional problem or a physical ailment or a trauma that they experienced can go a long way in developing who they are.

  • Even your killer needs to be humanized. Don’t just make them a killer. Everything I just mentioned in the previous paragraph can be applied to your killer. These are the things that drive your killer to kill whereas with the protagonist these traits drive them to solve the crimes.

  • Also, don’t forget the victims. They play a huge part in why the killer chooses them. Often, detectives or crime solvers have to start with the victimology because they have nothing else to go on.

  • Explore Motivations: Dive into the motivations behind the crime. Understanding the "why" can be as crucial as the "how." This is where victimology can play a huge factor.

  1. Craft an Intriguing Plot:

  • Develop a complex and layered plot with unexpected twists. Use red herrings and misdirection to keep readers guessing. The biggest part of this is to remember clues don’t fall out of the sky. Make sure you aren’t misleading the reader just so you can create tension and then have your character magically find the clue that breaks open the case. This is by far the hardest part of writing these types of stories. And this is where research on how things are done in the crime investigation world will play a major part in how your protagonist solves the crime. Believe it or not, most crimes are solved sitting at a desk researching and making calls.

  1. Setting Matters:

  • Choose a vivid and atmospheric setting. Whether it's a gritty urban environment, a small town, or a forensic lab, make sure the setting enhances the overall mood of the story. This is such an important part of any fictional story. You want to immerse your reader in your story make them feel as if they are there right in the thick of it. My Damien Kaine series is set in Chicago. I used to live near there and visited the area regularly. I use places I ate at for my characters. This will help set the scene. If you have trouble capturing the urban scenery or the countryside, look into getting The Urban Setting Thesaurus or the Rural Setting Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becky Pulgisi.

  1. Blend Science and Suspense:

  • Integrate forensic science seamlessly into the narrative. Showing how the protagonist uses scientific methods to solve the crime while maintaining tension and suspense will have its hardships. You never want your reader to feel as if they are being lectured to or they are reading a text manual on crime scene investigation.

  1. Build Tension with Time Constraints:

  • Introduce time-sensitive elements to heighten tension. This could be a ticking clock, a deadline for solving the case, or a threat that escalates as time passes. There is something to be said to have the protagonist work against the clock. And in the same breath, you need to know when to slow the action down. Give your reader a chance to breathe. These are two different things. You can still have your protag having to race against the clock to solve something, but you need to know how to set the pacing.

  1. Include Moral Dilemmas:

  • Explore ethical challenges that forensic experts may face. This adds depth to your characters and raises thought-provoking questions for readers. Even the best cops and detectives will struggle at times with moral dilemmas they face when solving crimes. If you can make your audience question their own morals given a situation, that will have a lasting impact on them.

  1. Foreshadowing and Clues:

  • Introduce subtle clues and foreshadowing early in the story. Readers should have the chance to solve the mystery alongside your protagonist. Don't just drop a clue out of the blue to help your crime solver figure it out. Clues don't come from thin air.

  1. Balancing Action and Investigation:

  • Strike a balance between action-packed scenes and detailed investigative processes. Too much of one at the expense of the other can disrupt the pacing. The more you write crime thrillers, the easier this part becomes. Each story has a different pace. The key here is not to rush so fast that your reader doesn’t have time to breathe or digest everything going on.

Remember, the key to a successful crime novel is to keep readers engaged, intrigued, and guessing until the very end. Happy writing!

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