Creating a Story Arc for a Crime Novel

While I’m waiting for the mysterious Kindle Scout to determine the fate of my novel, “Sleepless”, I decided to start working on my new novel. This is completely irresponsible, there’s still some work I need to do on Sleepless, whether it gets published by Kindle Press or not. However, to say the truth, I feel like I need to feel the new novel getting closer. I’ve been talking about writing it for months, and it keeps getting postponed due to Sleepless related issues (Okay, and one son being born. That also happened).

So I decided to work on the story arc. I have the basic premise. This is a sci-fi crime novel, about detectives in a police station in the year 2037. I have a plethora of ideas about how to construct the world, but I don’t have an actual story. Which I guess is kinda important.

Okay, so I created a Google doc called imaginatively “sci-fi story outline” (what will I do when I want to write a second sci-fi novel?). And then I stared at the blank page a bit. And a bit more.

I had no idea where to start. I’ve never written a crime novel before. How do you even begin? In the police station? In the crime scene? Do I plan ahead the entire investigation or do I drop them in the scene and figure it out when the time comes? Finally I figured out an important concept.

The real hero of a crime story is the crime. Not the criminals, and not the detectives. If I want to outline the story, I need to really understand the crime. I wrote down six questions (with example answers, to help myself get in the mood). Here they are:

  1. What’s the basic story? E.g. husband killed wife because he found out she has an affair
  2. What’s the fact that makes this story special? The wife had an affair with her cousin
  3. What was the plan? The husband decided to kill his wife with a knife in the morning, when he should be at work.
  4. What went wrong with the plan? Someone at work noticed that he was gone, the wife managed to get the knife away from him and cut him with it, and he ended up choking her to death
  5. What are the red herrings? The wife had a well known feud with the neighbor, who once killed her cat. Lately the threats became more and more violent. In addition, the wife was a member of a BDSM club, who are known for choking some of their patrons
  6. Particular fact about the victim and about the offender – the husband collected rare fish. The wife just won an award for best blueberry pie in the district.
Okay! Time to get to work. I wanted this novel to focus on two murders which are solved one alongside the other. So I created two murders, and for each one I answered those six questions. Everything fell into place after that. It’s the first time I created a story arc for a crime novel, but all in all it took about four and a half hours, which feels kinda fast.
The only place I got stuck a bit was deciding upon a first scene. One of the problems in Sleepless, is that the first couple of chapters in the book are not very action packed. I think they’re great, but editors and writers explained to me over and over that I have to hook the reader in the beginning. This is even worse in Kindle Scout, since they only display the first 5000 words (the real action in Sleepless begins around the 12000nd word).
Eventually I decided to start by placing two of my detectives in a stakeout. This will enable me to immediately get into some action in the first few pages, and give the readers enough time to understand the story premise before I begin lobbing murders at them.

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