Research Method for Crime Fiction Writing

Breaking into crime writing is a competitive business, which means the crime writer must gain a thorough understanding of criminal law and related issues where necessary to make the crime story convincing.
Where to Find Information for Crime Fiction Writing
The inspiration for a crime story must be convincing to stand a chance within the competitive crime publishing world, and this often means conducting lots of research. But where does the crime writer begin? The following sources of information for crime writers will help.
The Study of Crime Cases for Crime Fiction
Nothing can beat raw experience, and a great way of experiencing criminal law at work is to spend time within a county or magistrates court. Courts often schedule hearings on certain days of the week, so it is worth checking with the court usher first. Sitting in a court gallery is free, open to the public and fascinating. Make the most of the time by jotting down smells, sensations, textures and the emotional flavour of the day, which is often galvanised. Don’t spare any detail regarding the judge, defendant, lawyers, witnesses, the jury, the press and the crown prosecution staff.
A Convincing Crime Story
Make a note of the contrasting language used, including criminal phraseology, which may not heard elsewhere. Think about how it might feel to be a particular person within the gallery and look for clues within body language and facial expressions. Consider the viewpoint of the victim, a witness, a juror, a member of staff working for the prosecution service, the probation service, a court staff or the defendant. Speculate on the reasons why the crime was committed, and the emotional journey of those involved to this resolution.
Simple Research for Detective Fiction
Easy to understand and accurate information on the workings of the crown prosecution service, the prison service, the probation service and the police for the accused, the victim and their families can be found from the government, either as leaflets or online. See links below.

The author may also ask permission to be shown around a police station, including the police cell or a low security prison. Some may allow this kind of access, but it is often down to the decision of the officer in charge. Make it clear the purpose of the visit and be prepared for cancellations.


Information Resource for Crime Writers

Back copies of newspapers provide a wealth of information on bygone criminal cases, which could prove invaluable to a detective story set in a particular time period. Of course, the library is a must. Books can be found on all matters of crime issues, including:


  • The workings of the forensics procedures
  • Psychology of the criminal mind
  • Books about real life serial killers
  • Demographics of crime, such as incidents of burglary crime, theft crime, murder crime and youth crime.
  • Historical crime
  • Motives for committing a crime
  • Studies into how crime affects families and children
  • Counselling services for victims and their families (not forgetting the criminal)

Where to Find Information for Crime Writers


Thorough research into the workings of the criminal system is essential to all crime novels. In some cases, this may take as much time as writing the crime story itself, but the crime novelist must only use what is necessary to the story and not inform the reader for the sake of it. A great central story, of course, will give the crime novel a better chance, but in such a competitive world, the crime writer should leave nothing to chance, particularly the accuracy of the information used within the novel.
Find out how I created a fictional psychopath on my author site.


Links and Information for the Detective Fiction Writer


Information on British, Irish and European law legislation (BAILLI)

Books on How to Write Crime Novels

Government guide to crime and justice (UK law)

Department of Justice and the criminal justice system (US law)


Books on How to Write Novels


UK bookshop on how to write novels

US bookshop on how to write novels

UK software for novel writers

US software for novels writers

© Rachel Shirley 2010


Photo credit and information: Dylan Oliphant from LaMarque, U.S.A