What Do Crime Fiction Readers Want?
A writing teacher long ago gave me a formula for commercial fiction: Take a likeable character who pursues overwhelming odds to reach a worthwhile goal. The worse you make your protagonist suffer, the more your readers will cheer when they overcome it. Do you agree? (MP)
Crime Fiction readers want:
- A plot that moves fast enough to grab and maintain their attention
- Action scenes that are fast and uncluttered, followed by a slower pace, allowing the reader a chance to catch his breath and maybe enjoy the setting and characters a little
I’ve read some engaging stories that kept me breathlessly turning pages to see what happened next, but thinking back later, the plot was familiar. It was the characters and the writing that kept me engaged. Authors aren’t required to think up something original and trick it out with a lot of forensic gimmickry or facts only a specialist would know.
However, it needs to engage the reader who is looking for entertainment and to be pulled away from the dullness of daily life.
Crime fiction readers want a believable plot fleshed out by a memorable protagonist (the sleuth) matched by a worthy antagonist (killer). They will forget an intricate (and sometimes bewildering) plot, but they will remember characters that live and breathe and want to read another book in your series.
Who remembers the plot of Agatha Christie’s books except in broad strokes? But Hercule Poirot. Oh yes. Hannibal Lecter? Kinsey Milhone? You probably have favorites too.
Readers want a believable plot that makes sense
This is where I part ways with thriller writers. I write whodunits, by the way. A thriller plot involves a big city or international crime where the villain is known. A clock is ticking in the background. Only one man (with a host of improbable powers) can stop this horrific crime. Gasp! Shriek! Pow! Thrillers feature a rollicking action adventure plot with lots of fight scenes, explosions, and car chases. Think summer blockbuster movies, which are fun but I, for one, wouldn’t like to see them or read them every day.
I like the more cerebral whodunit plot structure for my usual fare. The reader usually encounters the crime, most often a murder, very quickly. The plot involves the unravelling of the puzzle whodunit. The sleuth or detective must detect from a scatter of puzzles pieces and hidden clues the identity of the killer and the motive for the crime.
Readers want to be carried off into another world they will never experience, or one so familiar they’re experiencing it with new eyes
Readers grab books that feature a settings they’re familiar with, nostalgic about, or want to visit. Some writers revel in lush descriptive prose about the setting, and we enjoy a little of this, but long descriptive passages are rare in mass market mystery fiction. Readers are usually looking for the next piece of action or a return to dialogue between characters they like.
If you’re interested in reading more about the elements of crime fiction, you might like my eBooks on Writing Your First Mystery available HERE