Five Key Elements of The Detective Story

This half term, The Writer’s Club will be exploring the Detective Story. This genre is so much fun, both to read and to write, but there are rules to follow in order to make the story work. Here are the five key elements that detective story writers follow.  

The Detective The detective is obviously central to the detective story. He/she needs to be a character that will engage the reader. Detective stories often become series, so this should also be a character that readers will keep coming back to and has enough depth that you will be able to show different aspects of their personality and develop the character further over time.Detectives often have special skills that they have harnessed are used in order to solve crime effectively.They normally have a different way in which they see the world, and this allows them to spot patterns that others do not notice. 

A good crime The obvious crime to centre a detective story on is the murder. However, this does not always have to be the case. It could be a robbery or entrapment. For example, in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Scandal in Bohemia, the case centres on a compromising photograph and the subsequent power play between the King of Bohemia and Irene Adler. Whatever the crime is, it does need to be interesting and not have an obvious solution. 

A worthy opponent A good detective story will have someone who acts as an opponent. For example, Sherlock Holmes’ famous nemesis is Moriarty. Moriarty shares Sherlock’s incredible powers of observation and detection, but he represents what would happen if these powers were used for evil rather than good. The opponent could be the person who is culpable for the crime, but this does not have to be the case. The opponent could be a character who is constantly trying to get in the way of the detective, and thwart their progress in the case. 

The motive When you reveal the motivation of the characters to the reader, it must be believable. The reader is normally more interested in the why, than the who. The character needs to have a clear motive for committing the crime. Just saying that they are evil is not really convincing enough for the reader. We want more detail about what motivated them, and an implausible killer will leave the reader feeling disappointed. 

The resolution It is important that the resolution to the story is not too obvious. When a reader has invested in your detective story, they do not want to feel let down by the ending. So this means avoiding any easy resolutions, such as it all being a dream. Furthermore, it should never be down to the supernatural. It needs to be a solution that has been there in the story the whole time, and it was never completely impossible for the reader to solve it, since the clues were there to see. 

The Writer’s Club meets on Sundays at 11 am. It is aimed at Key Stage Three students and it is a fantastic way to build your child’s confidence in English, in a fun and creative space. Spaces in the group are extremely limited. To find out more, get in touch at

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