The reader has to be hooked on the first page, and you must not release them for the whole novel.
In any literature, the opening sentences, paragraph, page or chapter can be critical, and crime writing is no different. Start your story off with some significant event, or a narrative that is profound.
Here are a couple of opening types that have worked:
- The start of the novel with the protagonist in some physical or emotional danger.
- A flashback opening can start with a time of high intensity from somewhere later in the story and then flashback to the circumstances leading up to the actual beginning.
- The first day on the job opening: An excellent way to propose the world to the reader is to see it through the eyes of the protagonist, or the antagonist. Sometimes the Antagonist is the first person narrator; this is very rare.
- The everyday hero opening is when your protagonist is going about their ordinary life, and some event has them careening off to another way.
- Outside action is the external action event which could be a robbery, or a murder, or any problem that doesn’t involve the hero.
- Never begin with a summary of the weather. In a crime novel, if you open with a report of the weather it will make people assume the weather killed somebody.
The worst offence a writer can perform is to be dull or boring. It is a very woeful offence to be boring. The reader will stop reading and move on to another book while keeping in mind the author is not to be seen again. If a crime novel becomes boring, there’s a very high chance it is because the writer was fatigued while composing the words. The worst bit of guidance I have ever been told, and it’s slung around like a rule that must be followed is; ‘Write what you know.’ It’s not entirely honest, as you should ‘Write what excites you.’ With research into what is exciting to you, so you then understand what you write, and that excitement will come across on the page and excite the reader.
Nobody admires likeable characters. They probably think they do and may believe they do, but they don’t. Going back a few decades, Fawlty Towers star John Cleese, playing Basil Fawlty was an excellent protagonist because he was not likeable. What he did was try very hard to be the worst hotel manager in the world. This nastiness is why everyone likes him even though he is evil. What readers admire are characters that make mistakes, characters that think fast and think wrongly flawed characters, but likeable characters. Likeable is very boring. A lot of crime novels are scattered with bitches, erratic men, doubtful women and double-crossing scoundrels. Given the problematic nature of the characters that populate a crime novel, the question is how do you captivate the hearts of the reader and keep them interested to the end of the book?
The answer is empathy.
Here are a couple of ways to create empathy:
1. Make the protagonist have a funny side.
2. Make the protagonist a victim of something personal.
3. Show the protagonist in a quandary about something central.
4. Show the protagonist being highly skilful at what they do.
5. Show the protagonist being selfless and putting their client first.
1. A reader must have the same opportunity with the investigator for solving the crime. All the clues must be plainly stated and reported.
2. No deliberate tricks or dishonesty may be placed on a reader other than those performed legitimately by the perpetrator on the detective.
3. There must be no love engagement. The profession in hand is to bring a perpetrator to the bar of justice, but not to bring a lovelorn pair to their wedding
4. The detective themselves, or one of the official police investigators, should never turn out to be the offender. This is plain trickery, on a par with offering someone a penny for a ten-pound note. It’s false pretences.
5. The offender must be concluded by logical reasoning — not by accident or coincidence or unmotivated admission.
6. A detective novel must have a detective in it, and a detective is not a detective unless he or she detects. Their purpose is to collect clues that will ultimately lead to the person who did the dirty work in the first chapter being apprehended. If the detective does not reach their conclusions through an investigation of those clues, he has no more solved the problem than the pupil who gets their answer out of the back of the arithmetic textbook.
7. There frankly must be a corpse in a detective novel. No lesser crime than murder will suffice. A couple of hundred pages is far too much bother for a crime other than a murder, or a few. After all, the reader’s task and investment of energy must be rewarded.
8. The puzzle of the crime must be solved by naturalistic means. Such methods for learning the truth as slate-writing, ouija-boards, mind-reading, spiritualistic seances, crystal-gazing, and the like, are taboo. The reader has a chance when matching his wits with a typical detective, but if they must compete with the world of ghosts and go chasing around metaphysics, they are surely defeated.
9. There must be only one detective — that is, but one protagonist.
10. The offender must turn out to be a person who has acted a more or less prominent part in the story (antagonist) that is, a character with whom the reader is familiar and in whom they take an interest.
11. The butler or servant should not be made by the author as the culprit. This is begging the question; it is a too easy solution. The culprit must be a decidedly worth-while person — one that would not ordinarily come under suspicion.
12. There must only be but one offender, no matter how many murders are perpetrated.
1. The cosy mystery genre, the detective, usually is an amateur, a detailed description of the violence or a sex scene is never given, and this is why it’s called cozy. The setting is often a small town. The detective uses their powers of observation and deduction, as well as excellent general knowledge to solve the crime. Example: Agatha Christie’s ‘Miss Marple’
2. In the hard-boiled private investigator genre, the detective works in a large city, and the violence is explicit. The detective follows clues in the dark underbelly of the city. Example: Mickey Spillane’s ‘Mike Hammer’
3. The legal thriller needs research into the rules and methods of the legal world. Readers usually want to know what happens after a crime is committed with an arrest. You can use crises of legal conscience to make your characters more rounded. Examples: John Grisham and Richard North Patterson write in this genre
4. Modern PIs are sometimes women, often former policemen, and wisecracking loners who usually carry a weapon. But, in the U.K. there are no guns. (They can also be bounty hunters.) They are usually hired by private people to solve mysteries or crimes and to find people. Examples: Lawrence Block’s ‘Matt Scudder’, Janet Evanovich’s ‘Stephanie Plum’, and Sue Grafton’s ‘Kinsey Millhone’
5. The police procedural story is realistic and should be as accurate as the author can create it. The reader is taken to some squad rooms, morgues, courts, and crime scenes. This genre is quite complicated, and the investigator is often under a lot of stress. For example, the detective could be dealing with many cases, he has personal problems with relationships, and his superiors want the case solved. There are secondary characters, including suspects, police officers, lawyers, and criminals. Examples: Ian Rankin’s ‘Rebus’, Michael Connelly’s ‘Harry Bosch’, and James Patterson’s ‘Alex Cross’
6. The medical thriller is a suspense story that takes place in hospitals. The protagonist is usually a doctor or nurse. The plot is based on conditions unique to medicine and medical research. Examples: Robin Cooke, Michael Crichton and Tess Gerritsen, write in this genre.
7. The forensic thriller is a reasonably new genre. The lead character or protagonist is usually a woman who is a scientist or pathologist. Research is needed for these jobs as accuracy is essential. Most of the action takes place in crime scenes and morgues, and in the lead character’s home. Examples: Jeffery Deaver’s ‘Lincoln Rhyme’, Patricia Cornwell’s ‘Kay Scarpetta’, and Kathy Reichs’s ‘Temperance Brennan’
8. The general suspense thriller features a protagonist who is driven into the action in the result of a crime. This hero is often just an ordinary character who is called on to resolve a problem. Sometimes, this character must prove his or her innocence, often to the police and other characters in the novel. Examples: Lee Child’s ‘Jack Reacher’; Gillian Flynn and Dennis Lehane also write in this genre.
9. The military thriller has a lead character who is often part of the military, MI5 or MI6, the CIA or the FBI, or a consultant to a military agency. Readers of this genre love the details, and a lot of research is necessary. Often the criminals are crooked politicians or terrorists. The action usually spans continents.