J.C. Martin, Fighter Writer

Reading, writing, and fighting–the three joys of life!

B is for Beginning (A to Z of Crime Fiction Series) #atozchallenge

B is for Beginning

Today, I discuss writing a compelling beginning for your crime novel, a gripping start that will hook your reader, convincing them to hang on for the rest of the ride.

No matter which genre you write in, you need a chapter one (or a prologue, should you decide to have one) with a ‘wow’ factor. The writing style, the voice, the pace, the story … everything must shine in order to compel your reader to commit to the rest of the novel. This is particularly true in crime fiction, a genre whose readers expect tales of excitement and intrigue. Additionally, there are so many crime novels out there, readers will quickly lose interest if the book’s beginning is not gripping enough, and move on to another writer’s work.

So how do you spice up the start of your crime novel? Here are some suggestions:

Start with a crime


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In Oracle, I started with a murder. It shock your readers straight out of the starting blocks, setting the tone for the rest of the story. Perhaps this could be written from the point-of-view of the victim-to-be.

When choosing this scenario, it is important to ask yourself these questions:

  • Why should your readers care what happens to this character?
  • What have they done to deserve this fate? (To keep your readers guessing, this can be merely alluded to)
  • For serial killer fiction: what trait(s) does the victim possess to make him/her the target?

Show the antagonist stalking his/her prey


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Labyrinth, the second book I have planned featuring Detective Inspector Kurt Lancer, starts in this way. I enjoy getting into the mind of my killers, and thoroughly enjoy writing from their point-of-view.

Questions to consider that will provide intriguing insights into the antagonist’s personality:

  • How do they target their victims? (Again, this can merely be alluded to)
  • Does everything go off as planned, or does something unexpected happen (the victim fights back, the gun jams, etc.)?
  • How does your bad guy react once the job is done? (This will give excellent insight into mind of the baddie)

Introduce your protagonist in an unusual situation


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This is especially effective if you have a really compelling or quirky hero/heroine. Has your protagonist just moved into town, or have they returned after years away? Do we start the story to find the detective in a middle of a gunfight? Do we meet them at a turning point in their lives: finalising a divorce, retiring from the force, burying a child/spouse/loved one?

When choosing this story beginning, ask yourself these questions:

  • Why should readers care about this character throughout the book?
  • How will this situation stand in the way of your protagonist solving the crime?

Cut straight to a crime scene

Crime scene

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You could start at the aftermath of crime, which could also double as an introduction to your protagonist if you show them surveying the scene of crime. A beginning like this will set the readers up nicely for the rest of the story: how will the protagonist solve the crime?

Questions to consider:

  • What makes this crime scene so shocking, that you started your story with it? (Was a body horribly mutilated? Did someone famous/important get kidnapped? Has something priceless been stolen?)
  • What possible clues are they to be found? (You can plant some genuine evidence, and some red herrings)
  • What makes this crime a difficult case to solve? (Are there social/religious/political implications? Is there a cover-up? Is someone ‘high up’ involved/implicated?)

What was your favourite crime fiction opener? Are there any other crime fiction beginnings I’ve missed out?

Pop back here for tomorrow’s installment, brought to you by the letter C. Until then, see what posts other participating bloggers have come up with here.


41 Responses to “B is for Beginning (A to Z of Crime Fiction Series) #atozchallenge”

  1. Duncan says:

    Very much agreed. Some sort of tragedy right at the start is a must!

    This is me, Duncan D. Horne, visiting you from the A-Z challenge, wishing you all the best throughout April and beyond.
    Duncan In Kuantan

  2. I’m really excited for you, JC. Can’t wait for Oracle to come out!

  3. This makes me want to curl up with a box set of CSI haha :) Crime fiction is something I’ve never really considered writing, but I can see why it’s so enticing, with all the avenues you suggest!

    • J.C. Martin says:

      CSI and Criminal Minds, love ‘em both! Because it’s the main genre my mom reads, it’s the first adult genre I read, and you know what they say: write what you know. ;)

  4. I don’t write crime, but I do like to start some stories with a bit of suspense/tension, so that would probably match your second option, ‘Show the antagonist stalking his/her prey’.

    Aw, your second title is the same as my second title! It’s a good word, Labyrinth ;-)

    • J.C. Martin says:

      Snap! LOL, great minds, think alike! ;)

      Like I said before, these elements are just as applicable in other genres. The advice “Start in the thick of action” is no different.

  5. That is a great start… I love the breakdown!
    I got mesmerized by the floating zebra.

    Great start… to the challenge “B” is for Brilliant!
    Jeremy [Retro-Zombie]
    A to Z Co-Host
    IZOMBIE: Visit the Madness

  6. Mina B. says:

    Fantastic post on beginnings!. I’ve written all types. I think its challenging to get the opening right. Thx for sharing.

    Okay so I realize you already have the Sunshine Award. Darn it! I had no clue. Anyway, I gave it to you again, because I couldn’t ignore your fabulous self!


  7. Joe says:

    I love this post. I found myself nodding along, agreeing with the points you made, stopping to linger over some, asking myself if my first chapters measure up.

    Favorite crime fic openers? Three come to mind.

    Poe’s “Cask of Amontillado”: The thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could, but when he ventured upon insult, I vowed revenge.

    P.D. James’, “An Unsuitable Job for a Woman,” which is a bit wry.

    And finally, the most frightening of the lot, Neil Gaiman’s novel for children, “The Graveyard Book.” The first few lines are chilling and poetic and precise, your mind’s eye carefully guided as a killer stalks a toddler. Were it a film, Hitchcock would be minding the lens.

    Thanks for the great post, J.C. See ya ’round the A/Z.

    • J.C. Martin says:

      I have to take a look at those books. THE GRAVEYARD BOOK sounds particularly chilling–right up my alley! Thanks for the recommendations!

  8. sue says:

    Good article – speaking of beginnings – what’s your view on starting chapter 1 with “I” A friend has done this for a first person POV story she’s working on. I have been under the impression books should not start with I….

    • J.C. Martin says:

      Hmm … I’ve not heard anything about not writing in the first person in the first chapter. I’ve read more than enough books that start that way. Personally, I see nothing wrong with it. Where have you read that before?

  9. MAJK says:

    Thanks for this informative post. Even outside of crime fiction the beginning sets the tone for the book. If the beginning doesn’t garner the readers interest it’s unlikely they will read the rest of the book.

    A to Z Challenge

    • J.C. Martin says:

      Yes, and there are sooo many books out there, readers will move on if they’re not hooked by the opening.

  10. Nicole says:

    Great (and sometimes creepy) advice! I liked your point around show-don’t-tell in terms of stalking or setting up the crime.

    • J.C. Martin says:

      Thanks, Nicole. Yes, I do find that it’s way more suspenseful for a reader to be reading about a stalking but have no idea as to the stalker’s intentions until the very last moment.

  11. Yay! This is one I CAN tick the box on :-) My crime occurs on the second page :-)

  12. Some good thoughts and info. Thanks for sharing.

    Mary Montague Sikes

  13. Cherie Reich says:

    They’re all great ways to start a crime novel, but I must admit when the first scene starts from the eyes of the killer.

    Cherie Reich – Author

    Surrounded by Books Reviews

  14. Debra says:

    Great beginning for B. Very interesting points made.

  15. Those are all great points to start a crime novel. I’m currently working on one and the first page starts with the stalker going after the victim and bringing non stop fear into her life.

  16. DL Hammons says:

    I’ve used two of those techniques. Very effective!

    • J.C. Martin says:

      They are, aren’t they? I’ve used two out of the three as well, but have an idea for another book that will utilise the third…

  17. Cindy Dwyer says:

    Nora Roberts writing as JD Robb does some pretty intense crime novel openers. Your post nailed ‘em.

  18. Kittie Howard says:

    I don’t write crime, but I enjoy reading a well-crafted crime book. You’re so right, the opening has got to grab from the beginning. I’ll wander among shelves until I find just the right opening.

    • J.C. Martin says:

      Very true, Kittie, there are so many crime books about that if a reader isn’t hooked by the opening, well, there are plenty more fish in the sea.

  19. Sulekha says:

    I don’t write crime stories, only relationships and personal, but I liked your approach to them. Starting with a dramatic scene captures the attention of the readers.

    I am at

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