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February 25 2016


Who Killed Little Johnny Gill? by Kathryn McMaster

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Listed here are my top ten strategies for writing crime fiction and thrillers which will please the reader to make publishers start groping because of their chequebooks.

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1) Know the market.
Read very widely. As many authors as possible, not as many books. Issues read one book by Patricia Cornwell or Linwood Barclay, then move ahead. You know their shtick. Learn what else is out there. This means also reading the classics, having the history of the genre, and reading a lot of fiction in translation too. In addition, it means reading the kind of non-fiction. If you're writing political espionage thrillers, as an example, you need to know the political, military and security bacground If you don't, your readers will - and will also be caught out.

2) Understand where the leading edge lies.
The most important names (eg: Coben, Rankin, Reichs) are certainly not the most current. They built their reputations in the past. Try to locate the sexiest (biggest selling, most praised, most innovative, prize winning) debut novels. That's what editors are buying today. This is the market you're competing in.

3) Don't merely trot out the cliches.
You've got a murderer have you? A terrorist bomb plot? Be tough on your own. These things are tired old cliches. They're able to work if you handle these questions new or dazzling way, but the old ways are no longer enough.

4) Get complex. Your plot most likely needs a brain-aching level of complexity, plus a surprising number of well-planned, well-executed twists. Because modern crime authors are getting to be really good at developing complex but plausible plots, and also, since modern thriller writers have become so adept at delivering a never-ending chain of impossible-to-see-it-coming twists, you cannot afford to be lower than devilishly clever yourself. With rare exceptions, simple no longer sells.

5) Stick to the darkness.
Your book has to 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 definitely a limited market now. If you wish to write cosy crime, then expect a small readership and meagre sales.

6) Do not forget jeopardy.
Crime novels now are also thrillers. It's not OK for the detective to solve the mystery and explain all this to a hushed and respectful audience. On the contrary, (s)he's got to be in fear of his/her life. It's got to be white knuckle and also intellectually satisfying.

7) Concentrate on character.
Crime and thriller plots are easily forgettable, and often feel very samey anyway. Characters, however, never leave us: Holmes, Marlowe, Elvis Cole, Hannibal Lecter. If you discover a strong character, and try everything else reasonably competently, then you certainly quite likely have fiction that'll sell.

8) Write well!
Bad writing will, without doubt 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 must be taut. Check your book for needless chapters, your chapters for needless paragraphs, your paragraps for needless sentences, plus your sentences for needless words. Then do everything over again. Twice.

10) Be perfectionist.
Great isn't good enough. Dazzling could be the target. Being tough on your own is the essential first ingredient. Getting another individual to be tough with you is quite possibly the second.

I said ten tips, didn't I? Who cares, here's an eleventh:

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

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