How To Write A Perfect article or book In 7 Steps
1. Set the 4 columns
To write a crime novel you have to start from the end, that is, you have to decide right from the start who kills who, when, how and especially why. In the Anglo-Saxon world they teach that the perfect yellow is based on 4 columns, or 4 M:
- Murder, the crime
- Motive, the motive
- Mean, the weapon
- Moments of opportunity, the occasion
To start writing your perfect mystery, establish these elements and make sure they are credible and strong. In real life (unfortunately) one also kills for trivial reasons, but in detective novels no. Your 4 columns must be solid.
2. Build a well-crafted plot
Based on the 4 columns, you have to build a good plot, the first real step towards a successful mystery. The plot can be more or less intricate, it can be structured in a way to mislead the reader, but it must also lead him inexorably towards the only logical conclusion.
Once again, ask yourself why each action you want to stage: in the crime novel, more than in others, every action must have a meaning and a purpose that may not be immediately clear to the reader, but that you, as an author , you must know.
3. Create your protagonist
After designing the plot, you have to spend a lot of time building your protagonist, that is the one who will solve the case.
Your protagonist can be:
- a professional detective, such as a policeman, a military man, a private investigator;
- an amateur detective, who does something completely different but who by necessity or by nature finds himself investigating the case in question.
The advantage of a professional detective is that he can be actively involved in the investigations, while an amateur figure will have to have some contact with the police to access the results of laboratory analyzes and official research.
However, whether you want to write a self-contained novel or that you have in mind a series of mystery novels all centered on the figure of this protagonist, it is important that you outline it very well in your head (even better if you work with written cards) and that you make it a credible and well-rounded character.
He must have a great capacity for observation and deduction, but he must also have habits, tastes, preferences, small vices, defects of character, weaknesses, which make him more real and therefore closer to readers.
4. Depress the reader
The plots of the best detective novels are precisely those in which all the characters are potentially suspected.
So try to throw the reader out of the final solution by suggesting that someone else is guilty. To make the suspect fall on a character, the best way is to insert false alibis, missed acts, forgetfulness, disappearances, lies. A character who lies or who escapes will be immediately suspected, even if he then finds out that he was lying or running away for some other reason.
Remember, in fact, to clarify at the end every false path so that the solution is unique and the reader does not remain with the doubt that the real culprit is still at large!
5. Create outline characters
The investigator, professional or not, is always surrounded by minor characters with whom he relates. If then the novel is part of a series, then these secondary characters will be able to grow during the series and recur with their characteristics and even their family histories.
Think, for example, of the classic “helper-confidant”, like the famous Watson who works alongside Sherlock Holmes, up to the spellbinding characters like the Camillerian Catarella who crowd the police stations in detective novels.
In addition to colleagues and collaborators, the protagonist investigator may have family members (generally few and few present, such as Lieutenant Colombo’s wife) and friends (very few and trustworthy) who support him and support him.
6. Create the setting
Choose where to set your story, both in outdoor spaces (held in a big city or in a small town?), And in interior spaces (indoor scenes take place in a police station? In a barracks? In a cell of security? in an analytical laboratory? in a lawyer’s office?).
Pay attention also to the time in which the facts take place, both for their logical-temporal succession, and for the light that the various phases of the day can give to your scenes: a hidden investigation will take place mostly at night , in order not to be discovered, or a survey carried out in winter, with dark and cold afternoons will have a very different impact from an investigation carried out in a summer and sunny campaign.
By the same principle also the weather (rain, snow, sun, fog) can be a useful element to create your setting and, with it, the tension of your story.
So you don’t have to be just the director and screenwriter of your story, but also the production designer and director of photography for your yellow “film”.
7. Do not copy
As we have said, the yellow reader is an attentive type, especially to details, and has a good memory, because he remembers the bus ticket that fell to the ground on page 10 and then serves to exonerate the false suspect on page 153.
This is why the worst mistake for a writer of yellow is cheating, using tricks hoping that the reader does not notice it or, worse, copying it from other authors.
It is true that the motives for a crime are more or less always the same (money, passion, power), but your story must be original and above all your characters must be.
Tracing a plot never leads to the success of a book, let alone trace the figure of an investigator, hoping to follow the wave of success of someone else’s character.
If you also want to create your commissioner, go ahead, but make sure it is different from all those who are now filling bookstores.
Finally, writing a good mystery novel means writing a text with a well thought out and (possibly) compelling storyline. The detective story needs nothing else. Overloading your novel with moral or philosophical meanings will not make you more appreciated by readers and, indeed, maybe you will get the opposite effect.
Above all, don’t judge.
Do not judge the criminal or the investigator and do not draw sociological or political conclusions about the context in which they act. The reader is not interested and if he wants to, he draws them to himself.
Yellow novels, like all genre novels, represent a consumer literature whose purpose is to entertain the reader.
If this is not enough for you, write more, but do not distort your mystery.
If then, after all these rules, you just want to break them and you think therefore that the crime novel is not for you, read the counter-current position of the mystery writer Hans Tuzzi. As I said at the beginning, in fact, the rules should not be understood as a cage that limits the creativity of the author, but surely to overcome them requires awareness and stylistic maturity.
Reading Tips and a Final Exercise … Or Maybe Two
If you want to learn more, I recommend these readings:
- Twenty rules for writing detective novels by S.S. Van Dine
- How to write a yellow. Patricia Highsmith’s theory and practice of suspense
- How to write a thriller by Gilbert K. Chesterton
In addition to reading technical texts like these, the best exercise to learn how to write a good mystery is to read many and above all to read the classics of the genre.
The exercise I recommend, however, is this: choose any one of Agatha Christie’s novels (if you really don’t know where to start, take Ten Little Indians) and read it twice. The first time you will enjoy the story and you will also try to find out who the murderer is, while in the second reading you can focus on the structure of the novel and you will discover how, where and when the author has disseminated the clues, how she has misled the reader and as in the end he cleared the field of doubts to arrive at the solution.