5 Tips on Crafting a Thrilling Detective Story

Tips to write a detective story

Everyone enjoys reading a good detective story. Writing a great mystery or crime fiction requires more than just a knack for suspense. The genre of detective fiction has been around for centuries, with the earliest contributions from Edgar Allen Poe. Since then, it has witnessed increasing popularity among the masses. The style and form of detective stories require excellent execution and skill to craft a criminal mastermind. In a detective story, the plot hinges on a crime that the detective/s investigate and attempt to solve. These are also referred to as “whodunnit” stories. 

A well-crafted detective story keeps the reader turning pages as it tends to build an all-consuming curiosity in his mind. Throughout the book, the reader is given clues in perceptive ways that bring out their inner detective. It leaves the reader feeling satisfied after cleverly concluding a thrilling adventure. The following blog offers insights into writing an action-packed and compelling detective story-

Create a setting that adds to the mystery

A setting is an essential element of any story. In a detective story, the right setting is key to adding to the suspense of the story. Choose a setting that fits perfectly with the theme of the crime. Often, the setting contains smartly hidden cues to solving the mystery. The reader is wrapped up in the atmosphere of the setting and feels that they are a component of the story. Elements like the topography and the weather add to the element of suspense and capture the mood of the story. For instance, Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective novel The Hound of the Baskervilles is set in the moors in England, which reflects the dark and wild intrigue of the crime.

Develop an engaging plot

A good detective novel is a natural page-turner. This comes from a well-devised and paced plot. A traditional detective story consists of the following elements- 

  • The igniting incident: This is the driving force of the mystery. Often, this is the crime that occurs and encourages the detective to take action.
  • The rising action: This is the part where the detective investigates, gathers clues and starts putting the pieces of the puzzle together 
  • The climax: This is the high point of the story. It is the moment when the detective and the reader together discover the culprit, their means and motive to commit the crime.
  • The falling action: In this part of the story, the detective takes action on their findings and proceeds to confront the culprit and begins to weave together an accurate picture of the crime.
  • The resolution: In wrapping up the story, the detective ensures that order is restored in the setting where the crime has taken place. This involves bringing the criminal to justice and reassuring the innocent that they are safe.

Several popular detective stories owe their success to a skillfully designed plot. Agatha Christie’s novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles is one such example. The reader is led to the shocking solution of the mystery cleverly and systematically.

Create a brilliant detective

As the name of the genre suggests, the character of the detective forms the backbone of the story. Given the abundance of detective novels, it is important to create a detective who is unique, quick-witted and has distinct character traits. What makes a detective a genius is not only their sharp intellect but also their powers of observation and their ability to extract clues from other characters in the story. In addition to this, a detective must be presented as undeniably human, with flaws of their own. Some famous and widely admired fictional sleuths include Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple from the novels of Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the young girl detective Nancy Drew, created by Edward Stratemeyer.

Incorporate elements that effectively add to the mystery

In addition to a well-planned plot and characters, the story must contain adequate puzzles, clues and cliff-hangers. In a detective story, the reader shares the detective’s work in attempting to deduce who perpetrated a crime. The reader is able to do so by following clues the author weaves into the plot. Here are some common elements present in detective fiction which add to their mystery:

  • False suspects: They are introduced when the police target the wrong suspect. Similar to a red herring, false suspects introduce doubt and are closely related to the crime.
  • Red herrings: These are clues and turns of events or suspects that the author introduces to create suspicion and distract readers from the truth. They also make resolutions in the story more unpredictable.
  • Detective inquiries: When the detective makes their rounds, inquiring after leads. These inquiries are opportunities to create further subplots and complications for the reader to solve.
  • Surprise plot twists: These are unexpected and significant story turns that take the reader by surprise

Do some research on detective work

Before you begin piecing together the crime, familiarize yourself with the art of investigation. Read true crime stories, actual case profiles and records of crime. Learn about real detective work and the investigation process. Doing so will help you create a more authentic crime story. It will also allow you to write a story that is detail-oriented and true to life. It is important to know details such as who would be the first to arrive at the scene of a crime, what role forensics play in a crime scene and how detectives pursue suspects and question them. The most seasoned and admired writers of detective novels studied the art of crime thoroughly before creating stories about it. Writers like Raymond Chandler, Wilkie Collins, Agatha Christie have been able to write ingenious stories owing to their vast knowledge of the subject.

Writing a detective novel is as enthralling as reading one. It requires great persistence, a flair for suspense and the ability to tie all loose threads in a story together. In doing so, a writer acts like a detective, creating clues for the readers to help solve the crime. Go forth and use the aforementioned tips to write a gripping detective story that will leave the reader awestruck at every step, till the very end.

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