How to Write a Great Crime Fiction Imaginative Response

The second part of the your HSC English Extension 1 exam is an imaginative response. Here you will be asked to create an imaginative crime fiction story based an a stimulus provided in the exam. It can be a quote, a picture or anything really.

Here are a few websites that will give you some tips into writing a great Crime Fiction story. Click the links and a new window will open up to take you to the website.

Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories
In 1928, a list was published by S.S. Van Dine about the way crime fiction literature should be created. First appearing in the “American Magazine” in the September issue of 1928, “Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories” can be seen in today’s time as an early critic of the crime fiction genre.

S. S. Van Dine was the pseudonym of Willard Huntington Wright (October 15, 1888 – April 11, 1939) who was a U.S. art critic and author. He created the once immensely popular fictional detective Philo Vance, who first appeared in titles such as “The Benson Murder Case” (1926) and “The Bishop Murder Case” (1929), then in movies and also on the radio.

By his pen name, Van Dine wrote this list of “rules” for writing detective stories, after his stories became best sellers in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Originally published in the American Magazine (September 1928) and included in the Philo Vance investigates omnibus (1936), it is a breakdown of the conventions of crime fiction stories, which can be applied across the various subgenres that the crime fiction genre now encapsulates. Although as the crime fiction genre has evolved over time with the introduction of genres like “police procedurals” and the use of forensics to solve modern day crimes, a few of the “rules” have undergone “change” or can even be seen as “obsolete.” While the list remains a staple and very much a creed to the genre of crime fiction, it can now be seen as a list of the “stereotypes” that a successful crime fiction story must have in order for it to be truly effective.

A downloadable .PDF version of this list is available here (right click and save target as), which also includes a biography of Van Dine.

Elmore Leoanrd’s Ten Rules for Writing Crime Fiction
Elmore Leonard started out writing westerns, then turned his talents to crime fiction. One of the most popular and prolific writers of our time, he’s written about two dozen novels, most of them bestsellers, such as Glitz, Get Shorty, Maximum Bob, and Rum Punch. Taken from his 2007 book “10 Rules,” this website lists his “Ten Rules” for writing a good crime fiction story, with short commentary about each point that is listed.

The Killer Guide To Writing Crime Fiction
Another website with tips on how to write a good crime fiction story, but has the added bonus of breaking down the elements of the subgenres of crime fiction to describe and tell readers and budding writers how to fit their would be stories into the subgenres of crime fiction.

Activity: Preparation for your Imaginative Response
Search for a series of crime fiction images (such as detective, murder scene, crime, justice, investigations etcetera) on Google images as a stimulus. Compose a 200 word micro story.

Consider the setting (time, place and context), plot outline in one or two sentences, the detective and the main concept and/or idea.

This will allow you to prepare yourself for when it comes time to write your imaginative response. Even though you don’t know what the stimulus will be for the imaginative response, at least you will have an idea of what to write about. All that you have to do is to appropriate what you already studied to fit the stimulus.

Also consider these added tips when thinking about your imaginative response:
– The direction and intent of the question.
– The craft of composing a crime fiction text: form, use of language and textual details, structure, voice and demonstrated understanding of the genre.
The context: social, cultural and historical of your text.
– The values conveyed by your text.
– The key ideas and issues of your text
–  Authenticity and realism (know your times and setting)
– Crime fiction writers intimately establish their settings.
– Have an eye for detail within your imaginative response.

Past English Extension 1 HSC Exams
For examples of past English Extension 1 HSC Exam papers along with notes from the marking centre from 2005 and on, see each individual year’s link below:

If you convey and take into consideration everything mentioned on this page (and the website as a whole), you’ll be well on your way to writing a great crime fiction imaginative response and critical response.

Good luck and get sleuthing!

Images (from descending order)
1. Computer detective. Retrieved August 24, 2010 from
2. Notepad. Retrieved August 24, 2010 from