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What are some essential emotional elements of a crime novel?

You’ve probably read a few good crime stories before today but not all are created equally. Some books can leave the reader feeling flat or uninspired, while others are such a gripping read that they instantly achieve bestseller status. If you have ever found yourself lost in the pages of such a novel, you may have also wondered what makes a story into a must-read page-turner. 

Well, the truth is that a good writer will incorporate several facets or elements at key points in the story to keep you reading until the end. Usually, these elements will elicit an emotional reaction such as fear or intrigue. Sub-plots, twists, and other components can be used to keep the reader engaged until the end. Here are some needed to grip your reader and make a novel more than just a story. 


Weaving a compelling tale can mean that the reader has to feel the suspense coming through the pages. Suspense can be created by using an urgent timeline or placing your protagonist in a situation where the outcome may not be favorable. A crime novel when written successfully often depends on an unfolding narrative where the reader only sees part of the entire picture or story. This revealing of the story in smaller stages or segments can also add to the feeling of suspense for the reader. The unanswered questions of who committed the crime, or why they committed the crime along with the assumption of unspoken motivations of the criminal can keep your reader in a constant guessing game, enhancing the feeling of suspense. 


Many readers like crime stories because they enjoy the sense of intrigue that is evoked. Figuring out who did it, piecing together clues, and solving puzzles are all appealing to the crime reader. Good authors can leave clues throughout their story like a trail of breadcrumbs that lead to the final outcome. The reader should feel as though they are always just one clue away from solving the entire case. This can help maintain their sense of intrigue and curiosity as they move through the story. Intrigue can be stimulated using a variety of different scenarios from leaving clues to creating situations that are unfair or that create an injustice for your character that must be overcome. 


For your story and main character or protagonist to be believable, your reader will need to empathize with them. For this reason, many writers create a central character that has a fatal flaw, something that’s easily relatable to the reader. Maybe your character can’t hold down a relationship, or maybe they are estranged from their kids, or drink a bit too much. Whatever it is, a good central character will have a trait or a flaw that readers can recognize and empathize with. This has the effect of humanizing your character, so they seem or become a real person in the reader’s mind. It is an effective technique and one that’s used often to generate believability. Make your character too perfect and you run the risk of them becoming unreal or unrelatable in the mind of the reader. 


Sometimes you will need to knock the reader down and leave them disappointed, so you can build them back up again. Disappointment can be an essential element of a crime story. Disappointment that a lead or a clue turned out to be a dead-end; the traditional read-herring. Disappointment that the hero didn’t get to the next victim in time or that he didn’t string the clues together faster. For the reader, it can keep them reading as they hope for the main character to finally rise triumphant and solve the crime. This rollercoaster of emotions helps pace the stories with peaks and falls as your plot is revealed. 


Fear is a powerful emotion and being able to make the hairs on the back of your reader’s neck stand up is a talent in itself. Putting your character into risky or dangerous situations or one where he or she may get caught by the bad guys can instill fear into your story’s reader. It can also help to keep your reader engaged as they egg the main character on to escape the situation or outsmart the bad guys. Using situations that actively get the reader’s heart racing and adrenaline pumping or even make their palms sweaty is almost guaranteed to maintain engagement with the story and keep people reading until the end. Fear is useful in many scenarios, and many good crime stories continuously contain an underlying element of fear throughout the story. 


It isn’t present in all crime novels, but many do incorporate a love interest in the story. Love is a global theme that almost everyone can relate to; it also allows the opportunity to show a softer or more vulnerable side to the main character, keeping them realistic and relatable. As a universal concept, love can be used as a part of the main storyline or as a sub-plot to keep your reader interested. Along with solving the crime, it can be appealing to hope that the main character “gets the girl”. It is not essential to add a love element to your book, but it can open up opportunities to explore and demonstrate different aspects of your characters. 

Crime writing can deal with many themes such as injustice, morals, punishment, retribution, or even death. To make a good story, you will need to understand how to use emotion and write to create or elicit a response from your reader as you lead them through steps to the ultimate outcome. The elements you choose to incorporate will evoke different reactions and responses from those who read your story.