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How to write a detective story with an exciting plot?


Detective (from the Latin. Detectio - disclosure, English detect - to discover, to discover, detective - detective) is mainly a literary and cinematic genre, the works of which describe the process of investigating a mysterious incident in order to clarify its circumstances and solve the mystery. Typically, such an incident is a crime, and the detective describes his investigation and the identification of the perpetrators, in which case the conflict is based on a clash of justice with lawlessness, ending with a victory of justice.

Get inspired

Many authors of popular detective stories do not hide the fact that they received inspiration by reading the works of outstanding masters of this genre. For example, the American writer Elizabeth George has always admired the work of Agatha Christie. Boris Akunin, too, could not resist the charades of the great author of detective prose. The writer generally admitted that he loves detective stories in the English style and often uses typical techniques for them in his works. Arthur Conan Doyle and his famous character made a contribution to the detective genre probably not much to say. Since creating a hero like Sherlock Holmes is the dream of any writer.

Become a criminal

To write a real detective story, you need to come up with a crime, because the secret associated with it is always at the heart of the plot. So, the author will have to try on the role of an attacker. To begin with, it is worth determining what the nature of this crime will be. Most of the well-known detective stories are based on the investigation of murders, thefts, robberies, abductions and blackmail. However, there are also many examples where the author captivates the reader with an innocent incident that leads to the solution of a big secret.

Turn back time

After choosing a crime, the author will have to carefully consider it, since the real detective hides all the details that will lead to a denouement. Masters of the genre are advised to use the reverse time trick. First you need to decide who committed the crime, how he did it and why. Then you need to imagine how the attacker will try to hide the deed. Do not forget about accomplices, left evidence and witnesses. These leads build an exciting plot that gives the reader the opportunity to conduct their own investigation. For example, the famous British writer Pee Dee James says that before starting to create an exciting story, she always comes up with a clue to the mystery. Therefore, when asked about how to write a good detective story, she replies that one must think like a criminal. The novel should not be like a boring interrogation. Intrigue and tension is what matters.


The detective genre, like any other literary movement, has its own subgenres. Therefore, when answering the question of how to write a detective story, professionals advise for a start to decide on the choice of a way to build a storyline.

  • The classic detective story is plotted in a linear fashion. The reader investigates the crime along with the main character. He uses the keys to riddles left by the author.
  • In an inverted detective story, the reader at the very beginning becomes a witness to the crime. And the whole subsequent plot revolves around the process and methods of investigation.
  • Often, detective writers use a combined storyline. When the reader is invited to look at the same crime from different angles. This approach is based on the effect of surprise. After all, the well-established and slender version breaks down in one moment.

Interest the reader

To bring the reader up to date and intrigue by presenting a crime is one of the main stages in creating a detective story. It doesn't matter how the facts become known. The reader can himself witness a crime, find out about it from the character’s story, or find himself at the place of its commission. The main thing is that there are clues and versions for the investigation. The description should have a sufficient number of plausible details - this is one of the factors that should be considered when understanding the question of how to write a detective story.

Keep intrigue

The next important task of the novice author will keep the reader's interest. The story should not be too simple, when at the beginning it becomes clear that the "scuba diver" killed everyone. A contrived plot will also quickly get bored and disappointed, since a fairy tale and a detective story are different genres. But even if it is supposed to create a famously twisted plot, some clues to clues in a heap of seemingly unimportant details should be hidden. This is one of the tricks of the classic English detective story. A vivid confirmation of the above can serve as a statement by the popular American writer Mickey Spillane. When asked about how to write a book (detective story), he replied: “No one will read a mysterious story to get to the middle. Everyone intends to read it to the end. If it turns out to be a disappointment, you will lose the reader. The first page sells this book, and the last - all that will be written in the future. "

Since the detective’s work is based on reason and deduction, the plot will be more exciting and believable if the information presented in it makes the reader come to the wrong conclusions. Even the best detectives can be mistaken and follow a false line of reasoning. This technique is often used by authors who create detectives about serial killers. This allows you to confuse the reader and create an intriguing round of events. When everything seems to be clear and there is nothing to fear, it is at that moment that the protagonist becomes most vulnerable to an impending series of dangers. An unexpected turn always makes the story more interesting.

The heroes of the detectives must have interesting motives. The advice of the writer Kurt Vonnegut that in a good story every character must want something belongs to the detective genre more than to the others. Since the subsequent actions of the hero are directly dependent on motivation. Which means they affect the storyline. It is necessary to trace and then register all the causes and effects in order to firmly hold the reader in the created situation. The more characters with their hidden interests, the more confusing, and therefore the more interesting the story. Detectives about spies for the most part abound in similar heroes. A good example is the detective thriller Mission Impossible, written by David Kepp and Stephen Zaillian.

Create a criminal identity

Since the author knows from who, how and why the crime was committed from the very beginning, the matter remains small - to decide whether this character will be one of the main ones.

If you use a common technique when an attacker is constantly in the reader’s field of vision, then it is necessary to elaborate on his personality and appearance. As a rule, the author makes such a hero quite attractive in order to arouse the confidence of the reader and avert suspicions. But in the end - to dazzle with an unexpected denouement. A striking and vivid example is the character Vitaly Egorovich Krechetov from the detective series "Liquidation".

In the case when it is decided to make the criminal the least visible character, more detailed drawing of personal motives than appearance is needed to bring him to the main stage as a result. It is these characters that are created by authors who write detective stories about serial killers. An example is the sheriff from the detective series Mentalist.

Create the identity of the hero investigating the crime

A character opposed to evil can be anyone. And it’s not necessarily a professional investigator or private investigator. The attentive old woman Miss Marple at Agatha Christie and Professor Langdon at Dan Brown cope with their duties equally well. The main task of the leading character is to interest the reader and cause him empathy. Therefore, his personality must be alive. And also the authors of the detective genre give advice on the description of the appearance and behavior of the protagonist. An extraordinary feature will help him make some feature, such as gray temples and Fandorin's stuttering. But professionals warn novice authors from being too keen on describing the protagonist’s inner world, as well as from creating too beautiful an appearance with imaginative comparisons, since such tricks are more characteristic of romance novels.

Detective Skills

Perhaps rich imagination, natural flair and logic will help the novice author to create an interesting detective story, as well as captivate the reader by compiling the general picture of the case from small pieces of the proposed information. However, the story must be believable. Therefore, the luminaries of the genre, explaining how to write a detective story, focus on studying the intricacies of the work of professional detectives. After all, not everyone has the skills of criminal investigators. So, for the credibility of the plot, you need to delve into the features of the profession.

Some use expert advice. Others spend long hours and days parsing old court cases. Moreover, to create a high-quality detective story, not only the knowledge of forensic experts will be required. At least a general idea of ​​the psychology of the behavior of criminals will be necessary. And for authors who decide to twist the plot around the murder, they will also need knowledge in the field of forensic anthropology. Do not forget about the details characteristic of time and place of action, as they will require additional knowledge. If the plot investigates the crime in the 19th century, the surroundings, historical events, technologies and the behavior of the characters must correspond to it. At times, the task is complicated when a detective concurrently is a professional in some other field. For example, a strange mathematician, psychologist or biologist. Accordingly, the author will have to become proficient in the sciences that make his character special.


The most important task of the author is also to create an interesting and logical ending. Since no matter how twisted the plot may turn out, all the riddles presented in it should be solved. All questions accumulated during the course of action should be answered. Moreover, by means of detailed written conclusions that will be understandable to the reader, as understatement in the detective genre is not welcome. Reflections and the construction of various options for completing the story is characteristic of novels with a philosophical component. A detective genre is commercial. In addition, the reader will be very interested to know what he was right and where he was wrong.

Professionals pay attention to the danger in mixing genres. When working in a similar style, it is very important to remember that if a story has a detective story, its completion must be written in the same genre. The reader cannot be left disappointed, explaining the crime with mystical powers or an accident. Even if the former take place, their presence in the novel must fit into the plot and course of the investigation. And the accident itself is not the subject of a detective story. Therefore, if it happened, someone was involved in this. In a word, a detective can have an unexpected end, but cannot cause bewilderment and disappointment. It is better if the completion is designed for the deductive abilities of the reader, and he will solve the riddle a little earlier than the main character.