Logical construction of a crime novel

A detective story is like mathematics. At least many crime novels are like brainteasers. Because in many crime novels traces, witness statements and information are mentioned at the beginning, which only allow a certain conclusion. This conclusion need not be correct, but the conclusion and the resolution of the question (Who is the perpetrator?) should always appear logical and not be completely absurd.

If there is a gross lack of plausibility, the reader or viewer will find the work ridiculous or simply bad. A crime story should be like a mystery. The reader or viewer should also have a certain chance of finding the culprit.

So how do you solve a mystery? The basic prerequisite is that the author has thought about the crime beforehand. So the author always knows exactly the solution before he starts writing. Once the solution is known, the author must puzzle the events. He must therefore create other suspects, different clues and several motives to distract from the actual murder.

How do you do that? You have to imagine a concrete situation. Of course, each author can proceed as he wants. But there is a certain system of enigma that I would like to introduce here, and it works well. Here is an example: A woman is to be killed by her husband (Who?) out of jealousy (Why?).

After this assumption, imagine exactly how all this is to happen. You take the murderer’s side and plan the murder.

The murder is to take place in the forest (Where?). The deceived man got himself a pistol for this purpose (With what?) But wait: Doesn’t the suspicion fall on him then? No, that’s not possible. It has to look like an accident or a robbery that goes wrong.

The author decides to rob. The murderer waits for the day when the woman is at the man’s house (Where?) and stays overnight. Then he breaks into the living room there. He deliberately makes a sound that wakes them both up. For example, he might knock over a vase.

The landlord goes downstairs to the living room, turns on the light and gets shot. Then the cheated husband goes into the bedroom and shoots his wife. After that, the perpetrator escapes with little or no money. Because he wants to make it look like he was caught unawares. Now the perpetrator needs an elaborate alibi.

To do this, the author invents a special situation: for example, the man might be watching a film in the cinema at the moment. Every visitor is filmed at the entrance and at the exit (from a building on the opposite side). The only way to get out without being filmed by the camera is through the cinema’s toilet, but one has to hurry extremely to get to the scene of the crime and back again in 90 minutes (How?).

Thus, as authors we would have developed a plausible murder. Now we must try to pin the murder on someone else. For example, the woman is an independent. She has a business partner who holds a life insurance policy on his colleague. Just in case. So the company is covered. The husband is trying to frame him for the murder. The murder weapon has to be planted so that it’ll show up at some point. Plus, the husband, or better yet, the whole company, must be in financial trouble. But there must not be too many suspicions either.

Then there could be another suspect: the victim’s brother. He just happened to show up at the woman’s office that same day, asking her for money. They even argued. The brother is the inspector’s first suspect.

Now you, as the author, have a rough framework for the plot. Now the crime can be discovered and the film plot can begin…

The commissioner shows up at the crime scene with his team. The husband is notified and questioned. It’s just routine. The wife’s background is investigated. Who was she? Why did she cheat on her husband? Could the husband be the killer? But it looks like a failed robbery? Are there any perpetrators with another motive? What about everyone’s alibi? The plot takes its course. 

It will be important for the Commissioner to clarify all his questions: The HOW? The WHY? The WHEN? And finally: The WHO? There is speculation and deliberation. Investigation and search for clues. This is normal investigative work.

You see: As a writer, you must first become a perpetrator and create a crime. Then it is enigmatic (another is suspected) and encrypted (traces are covered up). This is how crime writers usually proceed when constructing their stories. This is exactly how you can create a plot that seems plausible. Only if you, as the author, know the murderer in advance, can you create a thrilling plot and introduce exciting twists and turns that will mislead the investigator and the viewer.

Progress and obstacles

If after only five minutes the investigator solves the case, the thriller is over and the story is told to the end. Is that what you want? Is that what your reader or your viewer wants? No. The reader wants to be entertained on a high level.

This includes that a crime thriller does not reach its end prematurely, but keeps the suspense for a long time. Only when the perpetrator has been caught does the tension drop and the crime thriller can end. So how do you delay an action? In dramaturgy, the term “retard” (delaying the course of events) is used for this.

There are several ways to retard the course of an action.

1.the offender must not be caught immediately, but only shortly before the end

2. Either we need to find other suspects besides the perpetrator. Or else: If there is only one suspect, there must be many false leads, lies and incorrect information that lead the investigator astray.

3. there are always false leads that are purely coincidental at the scene of the crime, were deliberately laid or appear mysterious. Of course, there are also real clues that help the investigator.

4. there are always false and correct statements from witnesses and suspects These can be correct perceptions, but also contradictory statements, lies and half-truths.

5. the investigator and his team may investigate in a completely wrong direction on the basis of a false assumption or theory. This also results in delay. Correct assumptions or discoveries, on the other hand, help the investigation.

6. there is also false and correct information. For example, it may be that someone has manipulated a database to cover up a lead. The whole conspiracy could reach the highest levels of government.

7. action delay can also be achieved when important leads, information or suspects disappear For example, a key witness commits suicide. Or was it murder? Either way, this makes the investigation more difficult. 

8. an investigator may be more active or passive Some investigators have a high degree of initiative and make rapid progress in their investigations. However, an individual investigator should not be too fast in his work and progress. In a team that can follow several leads and interrogate and pursue several suspects, the speed of narration and investigation may be significantly higher.

You see: Investigating is a mixture of moving forward and regressing. As an author you have to build up different obstacles for your characters. But if an investigator is stuck for a very long time, the plot comes to a standstill. The reader or the viewer gets out. He wants to puzzle along and join in the excitement. Not only the investigator needs a sense of achievement, no, the recipient needs it as well.

To continue reading, use the drop-down menu under “Crime Story” or click  here .