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Your Source For Learning How To Outline A Police Procedural

Welcome to a new series

Fiction Formula is excited to announce a new outlining series. Since the creation of this website, it’s been our goal to provide actual outlines that are far beyond the basics of novel outlining and story structure and expand into specific thriller plot based outlines. Today that goal has become a reality. Introducing, Outlining a Police Procedural.

Outlining a Police Procedural is a series of blog posts designed for you to follow along a pre-determined detective fiction plot outline using your own characters, setting, and ideas.

If you’ve been following Fiction Formula since it’s inception you’ll know that back in August 2012 we created a Whodunit online course where writers follow a generic mystery outline chapter by chapter. Once completed, the writer had a comprehensive novel outline ready to write their own unique mystery novel.

Now, six years later we’re going back to that concept and creating a similar outlining experience using 18 parts of story structure and the police procedural thriller genre that will provide an even more comprehensive novel outline.


Aspiring Thriller Writer – This Series is For You!

As an aspiring novelist, you may be aware that writing a novel is not merely sitting down and writing a story. Even if you’re a pantser, it’s not just writing.

Creating a story takes time and planning. There are formulas you need to follow to tell your story the correct way and learning those formulas takes time and hard work.

Just as the formulas of a story take time to master, so does the art of putting words into sentences. Writing is difficult and being a great writer takes a lot of time and experience.

The purpose of this blog series to help shorten your learning curve the only way we know how. Give you a jumpstart with plot outline so you can focus more of your time on writing and less on the story creation process.

If you’re interested in writing a police procedural, then this six-part blog series is a great place to start!

Police Procedural Definition

A police procedural is a sub-genre of detective fiction which involves the investigative practices of a police department, detective, amateur sleuth, or private investigator who is the hero of the story. Police procedural’s or detective fiction is the most popular of the thriller genre.

Famous Police Procedurals in Fiction Include: (*affiliate link)

    *Michael Connelly Two Kinds of Truth (A Harry Bosch Novel)

    *Jeffrey Deaver The Cutting Edge ( A Lincoln Rhyme Novel) 

    *John Sandford Twister Prey (A Lucas Davenport Novel) 


The Police Procedural Formula

Why are things called a formula? Because they work.

Everywhere you look in the world today there are formulas. There are accounting formulas, investing formulas, cooking recipes, and yes, fiction formulas. All are designed to walk you through a series of proven steps to help you achieve the outcome the formula provides. 

In fiction, we call our formula story structure. Just like any other formula, there are different versions, but all get you to about the same conclusion, and that is a well-told storyline. Need a refresher on story structure? Read Thriller Story Structure: The Complete Series where you’ll learn the basics of story structure in this 12 part blog series.

This series of blog posts is going to use the standard fiction formula, i.e., story structure, to help you create a well-told storyline. But, we’re going to take the creation of a unique story to the next level by following along another proven formula, and that is the formula of detective fiction.

Now, before you send us angry emails stating not all detective fiction are the same, we agree. But, what we can tell you is the foundation for detective fiction IS the same and when aided by the story structure, follows a specific formula. To help you understand, we have a few examples.


Hollywood Recycles Plots

Did you know Hollywood recycles movie plots?

They do, and they do a great job of it. Most of us don’t recognize several popular movies have been crafted by the same plot. With a change of setting and characters, it’s easy to create two completely different films using the same plot.

Take these movies for example:

The World is Not Enough (1999) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) and I, Robot (2004)

Alladin (1992) and Jack the Gain Slayer (2013)

Each pair works off the exact same plot, and our friends at put together a great post showing the similarities between each movie. You can read their post here:

5 Huge Movies That Stole Their Plot From Other Hit Films

So what does hit movies with the same basic plot have to do with our police procedural outline? Well, as we eluded to early we’re going to take the world recognized 18 part fiction story structure and combine it with a detective fiction police procedural into one easy to follow plot.

Yes, everyone who chooses to follow this plot outline will have the same basic plot idea. However, because you’ll each use your own characters, setting, and views, each story will be completely different just like Hollywood.


The “How”

This blog series is going to provide you with a basic police procedural premise and each week we’re going to build on that premise by using the four major parts of story structure and by having an action list to complete before you move to the next post.

When you finish this series, you’ll end with a police procedural outline using your own characters, setting, and ideas so you can write your novel.

Sound fun?

It is. I created my first outline similar to this in 2012 and have had over 5,000 writers go through the course. Many have gone on to be published authors using the very same outline!

Next 6 Weeks

This will be a 6 blog post series with one post every week. At the end of each post, after you’ve learned about the story plot, you’ll have a list of action items that need to be completed before you should move on to the next blog post in the series. After you’ve completed the series, you’ll have an outline for a police procedural novel.

Outlining a Police Procedural, Pt 1. : Introduction (You’re here)

Outlining a Police Procedural, Pt 2.: Set-up

Outlining a Police Procedural, Pt 3.: Response

Outlining a Police Procedural, Pt 4. : Attack

Outlining a Police Procedural, Pt 5. : Resolution

Outlining a Police Procedural, Pt 6. : Chapter by Chapter Expansion (coming September 26, 2018)


Action Items for this week

  • Read the story premise below
  • Determine what type of police force your hero will be involved in.
  • Create a character list to include hero, villain, three sidekick characters, and initial victim
  • Determine a setting

Story Premise:

The premise of this story is simple.

The hero is a lead detective (or investigator) on a murder case involving a cold case. The villain stays one step ahead of the hero by creating false leads, and it’s up to the hero to solve the murder. If you’re not familiar with a story premise, you can learn more about them, by reading this post: Story Concept and Story Premise: What’s the Difference?

Determine Police Force:

You do not have to use a police department. You could use the F.B.I., C.I.A., or any other government enforcement agency. You can also use a private investigation practice, sheriff’s department, tribal police force, or a small town police department full of volunteers.

Character List:

Your characters will build out as you move along in the series.  They will begin to show you things that help you flesh them out. Need help creating a character list? Check out Character Creation and Motivation For now, create the following characters with names:

  • Hero: This is the main character in the story. Try to create a flawed character, but someone with mental and/or physical strength.
  • Villain: This outline calls for a ruthless villain who is cunning and smart. At this point, you don’t need much for this character other than a name, but keep a list of ideas and notes as you build out your story.
  • Sidekicks: Create three sidekicks who will assist the hero in the investigation. Each should work for the same police force as the hero, or have the ability to pull information that a police force would use.
  • Victim: Create a name for a victim. Your victim’s information will grow as your outline grows. A first name will suffice for now.
  • Other characters: Keep a list of characters that make it into your manuscript. By rule, if you give them a name, you should have them on your character list.

Determine a Setting:

Consider using an area you’re familiar with, or you’d like to know more about. Depending on what type of police force you chose, this might determine if your setting is in the city or rural.



Complete this list of action items before moving onto the next blog post in the series. Don’t worry too much about all the fine details with the above. Just get basic ideas down so when we start the outline in the next blog post, you have characters ready to go.

The brainstorming for the actual storyline starts next week, so get ready for some fun!

Have questions? Email me, and I’ll do my best to answer promptly.

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