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How to Write Crime Fiction - Part Eight: A Crime Fiction Writing Checklist

by Kelvin Jones

Now that we've gone through the essential elements that make a successful crime novel, here is a checklist to keep you on the path to success:

How to Write Crime Fiction - Part Eight: A Crime Fiction Writing Checklist

  • Analyse novels you've enjoyed to try to see why you did.
  • Pay particular attention to the first three pages, but don't do less than your best for the rest.
  • Give your book a ‘plus’ factor (something to make it stand out from the rest of the `slush' pile).
  • Make sure it has that page-turning quality by increasing the tension and creating suspense at every opportunity.
  • Give it immediacy so the reader has the feeling he is actually there.
  • Ensure you have created sympathetic, and unsympathetic believable characters.
  • Write the sort of book you, yourself, like to read. - Disraeli said: “Whenever I want to read a book, I write one.”
  • Give your book an ending that will leave the reader feeling satisfied — and making a mental note to look out for your next.

Writing the Scenes

A novel is a sequence of scenes. Before writing each, certain points have to be considered:

  • The point of view from which the scene is written. This arises only where multiple viewpoints are used. Try to keep to one only in each scene. Some writers regard this as a hard and fast rule. In my view, there can be exceptions, but it is better to stick to the rule as far as possible. If a change in viewpoint is necessary, keep the character for the remainder of the scene.
  • Keeping to the viewpoint of only one character or no more than two means that the thoughts of other characters will be expressed in concrete form of actions and speech. This may not apply to classic 19th Century style novels.
  • Beware of a pitfall: once embarked on revealing the private thoughts of characters, the device may be overused, disclosing material that could be brought out in speech or action — a much livelier way of doing it.

Writing in the Characters

In the synopsis, the order of introduction of the characters has been worked out to avoid, as far as possible, bunching. With the appearance of each character, the aim is not to give a potted biography, but a first impression, exactly as if one were meeting a stranger. The description needs to be short and vivid. It will describe only the physical appearance, and the aura of cheerfulness, pleasantness, gloom or acidity which strikes those who meet this character. For the first impression, there is no room to go into many details of past history or to delve into personality. Those aspects must be added, gradually, as the reader becomes more familiar with the character.

What is needed is a swift, illuminating phrase.

Consider: “She was small and exquisite, with an expression of perpetual disdain on her porcelain-pale face.” This image is chilling: She could be imagined putting a lethal dose into a bedtime mug of hot milk. The reader will fasten on to her, because the introduction is angled unsympathetically.

Don’t Reveal your Villain too Soon

Readers go villain-spotting very early on. It's a cliché that the least likely character is the one who is ‘It’, and aware of this, crime writers have to be subtle in their introductions of their criminals. A useful device is to have another character — unpleasant, crotchety, tyrannical or vicious — upon whom the reader may latch as the villain.

Where red herrings are being used to cloak the identity of the murderer, it is recommended, when introducing them, to show only face value, and not investigate their personalities until suspicion begins to turn towards them.

How to Make your Characters Real

The characters need to be fleshed out, given speech and actions which suit the type of persons you intend them to be. In the preparatory notes, you have given them a biography, an appearance and a temperament. You know their faults, as well as their virtues. Each of them has a specific part to play in the plot, and the writer has designed them for this.

It is possible to make mistakes, especially in early attempts at crime writing. These are nothing to worry about — the learning process is one of trial and error - but they are disconcerting, and are rooted in faulty planning.

Generally, the characters concerned are the vital ones of hero or villain. From the first, their roles are so sharply defined in the writer's mind that it is possible to neglect exploring them as people. It is only when one is halfway through the book — and developing these characters along logical lines — that it becomes clear that X is genuinely benevolent, and would never stick a knife into anyone, no matter what the provocation; or that Y is an utter swine underneath his/her delightful exterior. At the planning stage, characters are no more than outlines. It is only in the actual writing that the author gets to know the characters, to like or dislike them, and to find out if they are truly fitted to their roles.

Choosing the Right Book Title

The right title for the book may come to mind in the early stages of planning, or it may not come at all, and the book has to be given a temporary “working title”, with the final title decided later between author, publisher's editor and agent.

Finding the right title can be difficult. It needs to convey something essential about the book; to be eye-catching; and to alert the prospective reader to the type of book it is. And above all, try make it short, e.g. Headbanger, Stone Dead, Witch Jar are some of my own.

For a crime book, the prime need is for the title to suggest murder, mayhem, suspense etc. What it must not do, is allow the book be confused with, say, an historical novel.

It is almost impossible to find a title which has not been used before. Accept this as a fact of literary life. All that concerns the writer is that there should not be another book currently in print with that title. If there is, another title will have to be found.

Do not be discouraged; the chances are that the new title will be better than the first. Check the titles on Amazon!

See the rest of Kelvin’s Blog post on how to write crime fiction here.

Kelvin Jones

Kelvin I. Jones has been a prolific UK crime and supernatural fantasy writer for over a quarter of a century. Born in Kent in 1948, he is equally at home writing poetry, plays and novels. He has published six books about Sherlock Holmes and the only definitive study of Conan Doyle’s interest in spiritualism, as well as numerous articles about the Victorian detective (see R De Waal's Universal Sherlock Holmes, online edition, 2000). Ed Hoch, the renowned American crime writer, has said of his Sherlockian work: “Kelvin I Jones reveals a sensibility and knowledge of 19th Century literature that extends far beyond the world of Sherlock Holmes.' He is the author of the Stone Dead series, featuring the intrepid Cornish detective, John Bottrell, and the Inspector Ketch stories, which are set in Norfolk.

Recent publications: Sherlock Holmes: The Plagues of London, Sherlock Holmes: The Baskerville Papers, A Dogged Detective (DCI Ketch), A Grave For The Goddess (John Bottrell).

www.cunningcrimebooks.co.uk

Kelvin Jones has a new book coming out called Headbanger, an Inspector Ketch Murder Mystery

A controversial, graphic and often disturbing account of how Sherlock Holmes, the archetypal detective, discovered the identity of Jack The Ripper, the killer who stalked Whitechapel in 1888. Based on newly discovered journals of his intimate friend, Doctor Watson, confidential Scotland Yard files, plus the intimate and revealing diaries of Dr Watson's second wife, the novel shows a view of Victorian London which peels away the layers of respectability and reveals society just as violent, exploitative and prurient as our own.

Books

The Norwich Murders

Kelvin Jones

£7.32

There's a serial killer stalking the streets of Norwich and it's the job of DCI Price (known to his colleagues as 'Ketch,' }to unmask him. Although there's not much in the way of forensic evidence, Ketch believes that killer is a religious maniac. Plagued by alcoholism and melancholia. Ketch struggles to keep pace as the killer's body count slowly rises. A fast paced and atmospheric crime thriller set against the backdrop of an ancient city.

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The Janus

Kelvin Jones

£8.32

At a Romano-British hill fort in Kent a strange Celtic stone head is found. The ancient artefact soon has a terrifying effect on whoever it comes into contact with since it is the stone talisman of a Celtic warrior whose speciality was the severing of his opponents' heads in battle. The Janus also has the power to project terrifying dreams into the minds of the living. An atmospheric contemporary horror tale by the author of Twelve After Midnight and Carter's Occult Casebook. 'Then, at length, he would turn out the light and leave the room, his mind full of plans and stratagems. And behind him, in the darkness of the vault, the Janus would know that soon now it would rise like a phoenix from the ashes, bringing the dead back into the daylight, demanding the Blood Sacrifice...'

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A Grave For The Goddess

Kelvin Jones

£7.07

Norfolk based detective John Bottrell and his partner had been looking forward to a relaxing holiday with old friends in the quiet Cornish village of Saint Maddern. But when the vicar of Saint Maddern is found murdered in the church, there are few clues as to the identity of her assailant, much to the frustration of Bottrell and his ex colleague DCI Ray Sexton. As midsummer day approaches and the local pagans prepare for their 'Day of Harmonic Convergence,' more murders follow, and Bottrell is convinced that there are dark forces abroad in the community. A Cornish murder mystery with an occult twist from the author of Stone Dead and Witch Jar.

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Conan Doyle And The Spirits: The Spiritualist Career of Arthur Conan Doyle

Kelvin Jones

£8.56

An exhaustive and definitive study of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's career as a psychic investigator by Sherlock Holmes biographer Kelvin I. Jones.The author has been a prolific writer for a quarter of a century. He has published six books about Sherlock Holmes, as well as numerous articles about the Victorian detective. Ed Hoch, the renowned American crime writer, has said of his Sherlockian work: "Kelvin I Jones reveals a sensibility and knowledge of 19th Century literature that extends far beyond the world of Sherlock Holmes."

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The Complete Inspector Ketch: The Casebook Files Of A Norwich Detective

Kelvin Jones

£11.60

The complete edition of crime stories, featuring the lugubrious, alcoholic and long in the tooth East Anglian detective, DCI Ketch.The novel and sixteen short stories in this volume feature a dogged Norwich detective, 'Ketch', so named after his ancestor, Jack Ketch the hangman. Ketch (real name Huw Price) is an alcoholic, nearing retirement in the force. Seventeen atmospheric tales of murder and mayhem, set in and around the towns and villages of Norfolk, involving blackmail, revenge, lust and obsession. By the author of the Stone Dead Omnibus.

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Carter's Occult Casebook

Kelvin Jones

£7.94

A collection of full length ghost and horror stories featuring the Edwardian psychic sleuth Dr John Carter. In the tradition of the English writer M. R. James.

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Traditions And Hearthside Stories Of West Cornwall: Tales Of An Old Celt

Kelvin Jones

£10.96

William Bottrell, the most famous of all Cornish storytellers, once described himself as "an old Celt". This seems appropriate when one looks at his prolific output of "drolls", published privately between 1870 and 1880 for the benefit of the middle class readership of Penzance. The tales he collected came from the lips of the miners and the local people. A new edition of the Cornish folklore classic, with an introduction by Kelvin Jones

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Sherlock Holmes: The Plagues Of London

Kelvin Jones

£8.07

It is December 1888. The body of Queen Victoria's physician is discovered in a railway carriage on Paddington Station. Sherlock summons his brother Mycroft to the scene. Sherlock is convinced the crime bears no resemblance to the Ripper murders but when a letter arrives at Scotland Yard, ostensibly from the Ripper, claiming he is the author of the crime, Lestrade doubts Sherlock's wisdom. When the body of Sir James Fawcett, a leading expert on tropical diseases, is found at his home in Chelsea the day after, Sherlock realises that a challenging criminal mind is at work. This Sherlock Holmes novel, which follows the author's own chronology of the cases of Holmes, introduces readers to a number of real life Victorian celebrities, including Oscar Wilde. By the author of 'Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective.'

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Sherlock Holmes And The Cromer Hound: An Investigation

Kelvin Jones

£7.07

A fascinating investigation into the literary origins of Conan Doyle's horror classic. Kelvin Jones traces the story from its East Anglian roots to its final emergence as a West Country thriller. The story's geography, mythical dimension and folkloric allusions are also examined in depth. A must for Holmes fans.

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Witch Jar

Kelvin Jones

£7.73

When ex-metropolitan police detective and psychic John Bottrell returns to Cornwall to recuperate, having inherited a cottage from his mother-in-law on the remote Lizard peninsula of West Cornwall, he little realises that his analytical abilities will be tested to the full. On the very day of his arrival in the village of St Sampson, Bottrell's car collides with that of local incomer Melanie Pearson, with whom he strikes up an immediate rapport. When Melanie's daughter, Isobel, is found hanging from a tree in the mysterious Hob's Wood, her death is at first thought to be another suicide. But when Bottrell meets Ian Glenister, a former Metropolitan police colleague, assigned to investigate Isobel's death, he learns that foul play is suspected in the deaths of two other teenagers. Bottrell, a melancholy alcoholic, stalks the wild Cornish landscape in this psychological thriller which combines elements of the occult, new age overtones and traditional crime narrative. Witch Jar is the second in the series of novels featuring John Bottrell.

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Stone Dead

Kelvin Jones

£7.39

Ex-Met detective John Bottrell travels to Cornwall to escape the memory of his wife's tragic death but he little realises that he will soon be embroiled in a web of murder, witchcraft and the occult. When the naked body of a young woman is found on a footpath suspicion falls on her boyfriend. However, after Bottrell has applied his analytical skills to the activities of the local pagan community he is forced to revise his opinion. A dark tale of intrigue and obsession from the wilds of West Cornwall.

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Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective

Kelvin Jones

£10.14

A definitive and fascinating biography of the great detective. The book draws on the work of many Holmes scholars and provides an illuminating picture of Victorian crime and scandal. The definitive account of Holmes' illustrious life by an English Sherlockian.

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Flowers Of Evil

Kelvin Jones

£8.35

It's the long hot summer of 1976. Young D.C. John Bottrell arrives in Bristol to begin work on the Somerset and Avon's Special Investigations Unit under the watchful eye of his former colleague, DCI Ian Glenister. Bottrell is soon introduced to the unit's first case. The remains of a woman have been found in a disused ice house in the garden of a Redland mansion, the only clue to her identity being the expensive French mackintosh which she was wearing. Bottrell, a young detective with a passion for criminology, who also possesses psychic abilities, is tested to the limit in a case which involves passion, guile and obsession. An intriguing and puzzling murder mystery by the author of Stone Dead and Witch Jar.

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Death Of A Cunning Man

Kelvin Jones

£7.08

When the Reverend Lewis Trenchard takes a year's sabbatical from his post as Norfolk's Adviser In Spiritual Affairs, he little suspects that he will soon be immersed in a multiple murder mystery. Yet within days of his arrival it becomes obvious that the remote village of Thorsford in North Norfolk harbours a deadly murderer. The first victim, the wheelwright's daughter, is discovered by chance in a shallow grave on Thorsford Hill. When Trenchard's old colleague, Professor Charles Whitaker, embarks on a quest to unearth the ancient hill figures which for centuries have lain beneath the hill,Trenchard becomes convinced that human motives can be ascribed to all of the murders. But is there a link with the pagan past? And what is the meaning of the mysterious esoteric society of "The Horseman's Word"? A supernatural crime novel in the tradition of 'The Wicker Man.'

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Cornish Witchcraft

Kelvin Jones

£9.81

A thorough history of the craft, lore and lives of Cornish witches. Immensely researched, this is quite possibly the last word on the subject.

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Twelve After Midnight: Twelve Stories Of Terror And The Supernatural

Kelvin Jones

£12.81

A collection of 12 contemporary tales of horror and the supernatural by Kelvin Jones. The author's work and style in this genre has been compared to that of the legendary English ghost story writer, M R James by both Francis King, the novelist, and Ramsey Campbell, the renowned British fantasy writer. Often rooted in Celtic folklore, this diverse collection ranges from the perverse to the fantastic. Vintage horror from the writer of Carter's Occult Casebook.

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A Cromer Corpse

Kelvin Jones

£7.68

Melancholic ex cop John Bottrell is looking forward to a peaceful retirement when a man's body is fished out of the sea at Cromer, a pentagram carved into his groin. It's a ritual killing, which is more in Bottrell's line than the local police, so he's co-opted back to Norfolk to solve the case. Then there's another murder, this time a 13 year old girl - also with the mark of a pentagram. In a fast paced narrative, the reader is drawn into a web of modern paganism where nobody is quite who they seem to be but everyone has a motive for murder. Kelvin Jones recreates the essential eeriness of East Anglia during a heatwave and melds crime and horror, leading us into a world of magic, mystery and murder.

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The Criminological Sherlock Holmes

Kelvin Jones

£7.00

An A-Z guide to the forensics and criminological detail of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Provides a fascinating insight into the world of Victorian crime and methods of detection and includes a reprint of Holmes' monograph on the tracing footprints.

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Akenstone

Kelvin Jones

£10.45

Ben held the stone up to the window. It had a curious glint to it, a depth and solidity unlike any common pebble taken from the beach. The grey wether had been given to Ben by his grandfather. When Ben and his archaeologist father visit the Kentish village of Akenstone, neither realises the magical significance of the stone. But Akenstone is a village of ancient stones, ghosts and long hidden secrets. And Ben soon discovers that he alone must find the key to unlock the power of the stones. A thrilling fantasy novel by the author of Odin's Eye.

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