Old Biddy

Who Killed Little Johnny Gill? by Kathryn McMaster

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Listed below are my top ten tips for writing crime fiction and thrillers that can please the reader making publishers start groping for their chequebooks.

1) Know the market.
Read very widely. Numerous authors as possible, not as many books. If you have read one book by Patricia Cornwell or Linwood Barclay, then go forward. You know their shtick. Find what else is out there. Which means also reading the classics, learning the history of the genre, and reading a good amount of fiction in translation too. What's more, it means reading the appropriate non-fiction. If you're writing political espionage thrillers, by way of example, you need to know the political, military and security bacground Unless you, your readers will - and will also be caught out.

2) Understand the place that the leading edge lies.
The most important names (eg: Coben, Rankin, Reichs) aren't the most current. They built their reputations in years past. Try to locate the sexiest (biggest selling, most praised, state-of-the-art, prize winning) debut novels. It is exactly what editors are buying today. That's the market you're competing in.

3) Don't just trot out the cliches.
You've got a serial killer have you? A terrorist bomb plot? Be tough with ourselves. These things are tired old cliches. They could work if you handle them in a new or dazzling way, but the old ways shall no longer be enough.

4) Get complex. Your plot probably needs a brain-aching level of complexity, plus a surprising number of well-planned, well-executed twists. Because modern crime authors have grown to be really good at developing complex but plausible plots, and because modern thriller writers are getting to be so adept at delivering a continuous chain of impossible-to-see-it-coming twists, you simply can't afford to be under devilishly clever yourself. With rare exceptions, simple no more sells.

5) Keep with the darkness.
Your book should be dark and tough. That's your entry ticket for the genre. What you do there may be very varied, but cute, cosy crime is an extremely limited market now. In order to write cosy crime, then expect a smaller readership and meagre sales.

6) Don't forget jeopardy.
Crime novels now will also be thrillers. It's not OK for the detective to resolve the mystery and explain it all to a hushed and respectful audience. However, (s)he's got to stay in fear of his/her life. It offers to be white knuckle in addition to intellectually satisfying.

7) Focus on character.
Crime and thriller plots can be forgettable, and often feel very samey anyway. Characters, alternatively, never leave us: Holmes, Marlowe, Elvis Cole, Hannibal Lecter. If you learn a strong character, and you must do everything else reasonably competently, then you definitely quite likely have fiction that'll sell.

8) Write well!
Bad writing will almost certainly kill your chances of success. And quite right too. You don't need to be flowery. You have to be completely competent.

9) Be economical.
Thrillers have to be taut. Check your book for needless chapters, your chapters for needless paragraphs, your paragraps for needless sentences, as well as your sentences for needless words. Then do everything over again. Twice.

10) Be perfectionist.
Very good isn't good enough. Dazzling is the target. Being tough with yourself is the essential first ingredient. Getting another person to be tough together with you is quite possibly the second.

I said ten tips, didn't I? What is, here's an eleventh:

11) Don't stop trying.
Be persistent. You improve by doing. You'll improve. Take into consideration building your skills, engaging with all the industry, or getting editorial advice. Dozens of things will increase your maturity as a writer. Now write that thriller, polish it - and then sell it. Best of luck!