WHAT DO I KNOW?

GETTING STARTED

 

First thing – there are no rules about how to start or where to do it! If you read the weekly article 'My writing day’ in the Saturday Guardian Review section you will soon realise that everyone is different.  

Some people have to have the exact same conditions, whilst others can do it anywhere.  

Some people write very slowly and struggle to produce 200 words a day, which is then reworked endlessly afterwards, whilst others dash things off in a few weeks.   


So time, place and situation is entirely your choice – eventually you will realise what does work for you. 

For me it’s a laptop on a desk facing a wall of memories, post-its, quotes, photos and a shelf of sea shells, stones and other artefacts – some of which were used in classrooms, others evoking places and people.   

I can work anytime for different lengths of time, although probably at my best early morning when the dreams and voices are louder and clearer.  I’m not one for ‘prompts’ – I find them a false intrusion into what is already happening, but that doesn’t mean that I’m immune to new directions coming from recent events or something I see or hear or read.   


I suppose, as I’d written quite a lot of performance material, it seemed reasonable to move onto novel writing when I was no longer working with other people . . . but it’s still a surprise to me that I’ve written so many books subsequently and no sign of drying up yet!  


My first book ‘Daughter of the Rose’ was published in 2011, but I’d written two other books before then.  

Number I is called ‘In that brief moment’, still unpublished, but currently under revision - to be published Autumn 2018.  

Number 2 was ‘A Man in Flames’ which I recently published after many revisions.   


But before that I’d devised and written many plays with and for young people, including versions of other stories like ’Frankenstein’, ‘Romeo & Juliet’, ‘Scarlet’, ‘Some Dance to Forget’, ‘A Porter’s Macbeth, ‘The Unicorn’ and many one act pieces.   PLUS:  ‘In that brief moment’, Daughter of the Rose’ and ‘Some Dance to Forget’ were all stories which I had used in the classroom as exploratory, social problem roleplay with teenagers.   


I decided that ‘Daughter of the Rose’ was probably good enough to publish, even though having attending a publishing course in York, a woman publisher told the assembled audience, who had heard my opening page, that men couldn’t write from the POV of a woman - although quite a few women told me afterwards that they thought I could.  


Anyway the course was useful because I met Emma Darwin, who has had an immense impact on my writing  . . . and many other people I’m sure. She introduced me to the whole POV & Psychic Distance debate, which made me realise what I was doing was not only permissible, but was the way to go!    

It was at the same course that I was told about James Wood’s ‘How fiction works’ and John Gardner's 'The Art of Fiction' and began to understand ‘free indirect style’, which again I realised I was already using (unknowingly and badly) especially in ‘In that brief moment’.     


So what can I share about this?  

     

     1. Make a list of all the things you’ve already written and for whatever reason (mine were all performed successfully) realise you already are a writer!  

     2. Don’t assume you know nothing about the ‘art of writing’ especially if you read a lot and have written plenty – it’s probable that you just didn’t know the names of things.  

     3. There is a huge amount of advice out there – just find someone who clicks with you.  

     4. Don’t assume you’re doing what everyone else is doing!  

     5. Go to some courses, meet other people trying to be writers, experienced authors and the publishers – I can guarantee you won’t like them all, but there will be someone who you can relate to.  

     6. You don’t have to get a traditional publisher anymore – there are loads of Indie publishers out there, who will help you publish a book and now you can do it all yourself online relatively cheaply.  

     7. The best thing I did was to find an Independent publisher, 2QT, who provided me with professional editors, proof-readers and designers, who put me straight! Now I can fly without them – although Karen’s voice is always there!  

     8. Once you’re up and running, you’ll find any number of people who are happy to be your readers & critics – Facebook is overrun by them!  

     9. 'Cull the adverbs', fewer 'thens', more dialogue, ‘kill your babies’, ‘revise-edit-revise’ and find out ‘what conditions to write suit you best’.   

     10. Figure out what ‘success’ would mean for you. Fame? Getting rich? Sense of achievement? Recognition?  


MORE TO FOLLOW


WHERE DO IDEAS FROM?

WHERE DO IDEAS COME FROM?

 It’s different for everyone – you just have to find where and when yours are most likely to occur.  

For me it’s in the bath, going for a walk or driving long distances BUT once the story has started it’s there every morning as I awake to fading dreams, scenes, conversations or realising that ‘she wouldn’t have done that’, ‘she’d do this’ . . .  etc.  

I call them ‘my voices’ and this is key to my writing because  I hear what the different characters are/would be saying.  

This is probably because as a drama teacher I became an experienced ‘role-taker’, ‘role-shifter’ and performer, so I am used to thinking inside character’s heads and experiencing the world from their point of view.    But the ideas also come from all sorts of different places:  


LEGENDS, MYTHS & FAIRY TALES  

  • ‘In that brief moment’ grew from a single line in a tourist booklet: ‘A nursemaid accidentally dropped the Laird’s baby out of the window onto the rocks below, and was so terrified she threw herself out after it.’  
  • ‘Daughter of the Rose’ is a version of Snow White.
  • ‘Some dance to forget’ is a childhood memory about the local bridge being a favourite for suicides. 

UNSOLVED REAL LIFE STORIES  

  • ‘the rain it never stops’ is based on the ‘Hilda Murrell’ case.  
  • ‘Voices in the darkness’ is about the much covered up child abuse allegations against senior politicians in the 70s.   


However, mainly it’s about what happens to DI Mick Fletcher next !Even after he ‘retired’!   

I didn’t mean to write crime thrillers – I needed a detective to interrogate my hero in the first book and so Fletcher arrived & I haven’t been able to get rid of him since.  


So you get an idea? What then? 

Well . . I just start writing the story.  

I still don’t know where my next story is going to go, but I trust the characters and listen to what they would do next.  I’ve never suffered from ‘writer’s block – I can’t imagine that!  

I don’t jot things down very often, tending to rely on my memory, but I do recall things from my past and include them.   

I often wake up and know what happens next or what’s ‘wrong’ with something I’ve already written or recognise something I need to explain or justify.    

But now I also know a lot more about the craft.   So, on this website you can read my thoughts and understanding about the usual things you can find on any writing help course or website.  

The main difference is I’ve written them in the order I came to understand them rather than the order which you might approach your writing. . .  and give you examples from my own writing.                   


WRITERS ARE READERS 

Every writing website will tell you that being a reader is an essential pre-requesite to becoming a writer.  

I have been an avid reader of the Crime Thriller genre since I was  a teenager, particularly Ian Rankin, Donna Leon, Susan Hill, Denise Mena, Val McDermid, Henning Mankell, CJ Sansom, Christopher Brookmyre, PD James, Martin Cruz Smith and first and foremost, Georges Simenon. .    


However my reading is much wider than that and I’m very influenced by:  Kate Atkinson, Maggie O’Farrell and Michel Bussi’s’s magical playing about with POV,  Ian McEwan’s elemental tension building,  

Thomas Harris’s terrifying manufacture of horror  (favourite line: ‘An excess of chirpiness does not bode well for the chirpee.’!)  and Milan Kundera for making me think and wonder so hard.  


AND NOW WHEN I READ OR RE-READ ANY BOOK I CAN'T STOP MYSELF FROM SEEING WHAT THEY ARE DOING , AND WHY AND HOW CLEVER THEY ARE !

CHARACTERS

Are they just a bunch of the 'Usual Suspects'? 

FIND OUT MORE

STORY STRUCTURE

Is there a template? What  is 'A Hero's Journey'? Are there different types of crime thrillers?

Find out more

POINTS OF VIEW & DIALOGUE

Who is talking? Whose point of view  is the reader following? Spoken words or inner thoughts?

Find out more

MAKING PROGRESS

How do you get to 90,000 words!

Find out more

USUAL SUSPECTS

CHARACTERS - THE USUAL SUSPECTS

My stories always start with the characters.  

There was the first premise – ‘a nurse accidentally drops the laird’s baby out of the castle window and is so terrified she throws herself out as well?  

This intrigued me . . . and much more so when I visited the castle, because there was no way she could have just ‘dropped’ the baby from such a high and wide ledged window.  

So how could that have happened?  

Very quickly I came up with an absent Laird, an unfaithful wife and an evil brother . . . and ‘In that Brief Moment’ began.  

The castle tower became a tower block in Rochdale.  

I have two bodies – a young woman and a baby.  

I needed a detective to interrogate a suspect – a young teacher moonlighting in the school holidays as a milkman, who had been seen ‘visiting’ the young woman, but it then turns out his alibi was being with another older, aristocratic woman, Louisa Cunninghame, who subsequently became Fletcher’s long time troublesome ‘mentor.’   

DI Fletcher arrived, angry and uncomfortable in this alien northern backwater.  

He didn’t solve that crime and so the pattern was set.   

Every subsequent book, I had him sent further and further north (and eventually to France) to places I know well, but were anathema to him, which makes him different to many other fictional detectives like Rebus, Brunetti, Wallander, Maigret et al, who conduct most of their investigations in a place they know well and so the place becomes like an extra character.  

He’s based on two different people – a Londoner friend from the 60’s and our second long lived cat, ‘Fletch’, who had one green eye and one blue.  

Gradually in the succeeding stories, it became apparent that not only was he often unable to bring the criminals to justice, but that there were other more sinister and more obstructive people out there – Special Branch, powerful politicians and their rich friends, who didn’t want him poking about in their murky activities.

Although the stories are all different, I generated a cast of characters who get involved in every investigation.  

So I have a hero . . . and then I remembered reading about the ‘The Hero’s Journey’ and then I realised I also have all the ‘Jungian Archetypes’ – the Usual Suspects!   


1.THE BODY/VICTIM 

The body is a character and she needs more than a bank card in her handbag.  

There has to be whole story here, (like the nursemaid's story) which includes the reasons for and motivations of the killer. Most of which isn’t disclosed in the first scene – unless of course we see the killing from the murderer’s POV, but even then it will be very fragmentary.    


2.THE HERO/DETECTIVE  

Like most fictional detectives, Fletcher is an  oddball, a one-off, difficult to work with, tending to rely on his own intuition rather than follow procedure, often impatient, but generally his heart is  in the right place, annoyed about what the bad guys get away with and particularly angry about the rich bad guys, who get away with far more.  

He doesn’t need much in the way of description: a few defining features: his odd colured eyes & a shabby leather coat; and anyway you want the reader do most of the work BECAUSE you want them to create his character for themselves.  

(Think of the times when you feel you know a particular detective and then a TV or film is made and they pick completely the wrong actor to play the part!! In your opinion!)  

It’s paramount however that despite being impossibly difficult or annoying he MUST have some redeeming quality which makes the reader like him, want him to succeed and worry about him in dangerous situations.  

This is why he's in trouble with  the boss, irritated by having to play by the rules – and who wants to do that!  The reader needs to see him as a hero struggling against the odds.    


3.ALLIES/SIDEKICKS  

There’s generally a sidekick, but rarely a yes-man.  

A hero needs the voice of reason, someone who worries about the rules, doesn’t want to lose their job, doesn’t want to take the risks or puts an alternative point of view.  

But this doesn’t mean they can’t be feisty or hot-headed themselves, just not in the same way or as extreme as the Hero.   

They often have some distinguishing skill or aptitude which the Hero doesn’t have, e.g.  Brunetti relies on Signora Elettra to use her hacking skills, Siobhan tries to keep Rebus straight, Lewis is Morse's common man.  

Other allies could be expert or useful in a specific way, e.g. pathologist, forensic officer, barman, lawyer, even villains e.g. Rebus talks to Big Ger. 

Fletcher prefers strong-willed female sergeants, like Swift & Garner, who make his life difficult, but it's still better than having another male ego to cope with. 


4.THE SHADOW/ THE VILLAIN 

The villain must have great power in some way, often ordering his associates to carry out violent and illegal actions on his behalf.  

My first villain, James Ferris, is a sadistic killer and rapist with a huge aristocratic chip on his shoulder. 

He resurfaces again in 'the rain it never stops.'  

He is both clever and ruthless, inflicting pain on both male and female victims in an attempt to assuage his deep hatred for his parents and his brother.   

He is everything Fletcher both hates and fears, because  they are not so unalike - his dark side/shadow - Fletcher has his own family demons: his mother dying early, ‘abandoning him’, his father disappearing, leaving him to be brought up by his much older, rather severe sister, who has children of her own to worry about.   

It’s necessary for you to create the psychological background to explain all your characters’ behaviours, even if these experiences don’t actually appear in the story or are only briefly explained.  

My second returning killer is Fern Robinson, who became the serial killer in ‘Daughter of Rose’, was copy-catted in ‘Some Dance to forget’ and reappears again, much older, in my latest book, ‘BLACKTHORNS OF THEIR OWN’.  

She is driven by a weird supernatural instinct which enables her to justify taking revenge for what happened to her mother and subsequently her lover.     

The reader generally expects the detective to be outnumbered, out thought, playing catch-up all the time. The worse the villain, the more tension can be generated, especially if we know things from his or her POV and if he has some specific reason for particularly wanting to thwart or destroy the detective, like Ferris,  for some past sleight or injury perhaps.      


5. ENEMIES /THE GANG  

Gang members need to be powerful in their own right: either physically or like the detective’s sidekicks, have certain skills or aptitudes the hero doesn’t possess.    

Ferris employs or blackmails ruthless killers, whilst Fern eventually finds someone who shares her need for revenge. 

Fletcher also has to wrestle with his superiors and other ‘shadowy’ figures such as Special Branch, who are intent on protecting the political and state machinery.    


6. MENTORS/GUIDES  

Detective heroes generally don’t want or value mentors, but they often have some special relationships, built up over a long time.  

Chances are they are not fellow professionals and not involved in any particular case.  

The support is often obscure or not immediately helpful to the detective:  e.g. Brunetti talks to his wife Paola or her aristocratic father . . . but also consults the wise sayings of long dead Roman philosophers.  

Maigret muses with his doctor friend, Pardon.  

Fletcher acquires a variety of confidants, who don’t necessarily condone or approve of his actions: Louisa Cunninghame with her intimate knowledge of the upper classes, Cassie with her enigmatic intuitions and his lover Laura, who tolerates his evasions and outright lies, but continues to love him.

     

7. THRESHOLD GUARDIANS/JOBSWORTHS  

Often superior officers or other colleagues who don’t want to upset important people or have some other personal agenda, e.g. Brunetti’s boss Patta, his sidekick Scarpa, Rebus’s bosses and 'colleagues'. People who want to play it by the book & expect everyone else to.  

Minor characters who don’t want to get into trouble, who just want to get on with whatever they are doing, people who have other more important agendas .   


8.TRICKSTERS/SHAPESHIFTERS/SLIPPERY CUSTOMERS 

Can you think of people in your experience, who turn out to be not what you thought they were?  This works both ways.  

Some people seem helpful, agreeing with you and your moral views, but then they change or you realise they have hidden agendas or motivations.  

Whilst others seem unhelpful, holding alternative, even unpleasant views and attitudes to you, but who you eventually realise are trustworthy and actually worth listening to.  

Recognising this is often unpleasant and difficult to deal with, because your judgment is called into question.  

The ‘friend’ whose political views eventually become too unpleasant to tolerate or the ‘enemy’ who you realise is talking sense.  

And then there are some people who deliberately set out to deceive you: the salesman, the colleague who appears to be your friend but tells a different story behind your back.  These creatures are all around you! 

And most of them don’t look like Gollum!   

They serve various functions: sending the hero on the wrong track, stopping him from continuing the ‘journey,’ getting him involved in dubious activities to satisfy their own needs or goals, exposing the Hero’s weaknesses, which he needs to come to terms with . . . or worst of all working clandestinely for the Shadow.  

Many characters can function in this role as well as being either an enemy or an ally.  

Brunetti is never sure he should ask Elettra to perform illegal actions on his behalf, although he trusts her motives, but he also finds ways of evading Patta’s orders (becoming a shapeshifter himself!)  

Rebus comes to trust Malcolm Fox.

Fletcher doesn’t trust Sadie Swift and it turns out she isn’t what she seems because she is working for Special Branch.     


BUT THE REALLY IMPORTANT THING IS THIS IS NOT ABOUT THE CHARACTERS!   

IT’S ABOUT THEIR FUNCTION IN THE STORY.  THE KEY QUESTION IS: ‘WHAT IS THE FUNCTION OF EACH ONE OF YOUR CHARACTERS?’  

IF THEY DON’T HAVE A FUNCTION THEY SHOULDN’T BE THERE

ARE THERE REALLY ONLY NINE STORIES?

MONSTERS AND QUESTS

1. KILLING THE MONSTER  

The Hero sets out to defeat an evil force which threatens him and/or his family or his homeland. The detective often faces monstrous killers & psychopaths. 

   

2. RAGS TO RICHES 

The poor Hero acquires things such as power, wealth, and a lover, before losing it all and gaining it back upon growing as a person.  

The hero detective is often suspended or is in danger of losing his job . 

  

3. THE QUEST  

The Hero and some companions set out to gain an important object or to get to a special place, facing many trials and temptations along the way. 

Sometimes it's an important piece of evidence or something the killer is looking for which the detective needs to find to track him down.

     

4. VOYAGE AND RETURN  

The Hero goes to a strange place and, after overcoming the threats it poses to him or her, returns with experience.  

Fletcher is constantly being sent to new, uninviting  and strange places in which he has to conduct his investigations.

5. MYSTERY OR THRILLER

A story in which an investigator (often an outsider) tries to discover the truth of what happened in some horrendous event or murder, which will invariably involve a version of one or more of the other 8 stories: often with elements of all of them.   

Some commentators regard this plot as less ‘heroic’ than the other eight, because the detective, especially in early crime fiction, was less involved in the Hero’s Journey than the killer or the victim and is merely dispassionately investigating it.  

However, I believe that the modern introspective detective, from Maigret onwards, is emotionally involved and the actions he undertakes to catch the killer or solve the crime becomes a personal journey.     

I would also argue that some modern detectives often fail to find or arrest the villain, mainly because of outside or greater forces preventing a resolution.  

Many modern detectives like DI Fletcher undergo all these different journeys at some point in their history.  


6. REBELLION AGAINST THE ONE    

The Hero is a solitary figure who feels the One is at fault and that he must preserve his independence or refuse to submit.    

This is definitely the journey Fletcher is constantly following, operating alone against much more powerful forces ranged against him.

COMEDY AND TRAGEDY

7. COMEDY  

A lighthearted Hero who endures a series of more and more complex and adverse situations, but eventually triumphs over adverse circumstances resulting in a successful or happy conclusion via a single clarifying event.  

Even the most dour tartan noir detectives tend to have a sarcastic sense of humour and often solve the case by chance.      


8. TRAGEDY  

The Hero has one major character flaw or great mistake which is eventually their undoing.  

Their unfortunate end evokes pity at their folly and the fall of a fundamentally 'good' character.  

Fletcher's tragic flaw is his overriding sense of justice, the need to see bad guys get caught and punished, but he frequently fails to fully achieve this. 

 

9. REBIRTH  

During the course of the story, something happens which forces the Hero to change their ways, often making them a better person. 

Many detectives don't necessarily become better people, in fact their experiences tend to harden their hearts, make them more pessimistic, but also inevitably adaptive to future situations.

THE HERO'S JOURNEY

HOW TO USE A HERO'S JOURNEY TO WRITE CRIME FICTION

Although it obviously also involves the exploration of characters, the ‘journey’ is about what happens next. Writing a mystery story doesn't qualify as a Hero's Journey in some people's opinion, but I find it a useful structure to employ, although more as a rough and often retrospective guide. The first stages tend to happen very quickly in a crime thriller, following the dictum  'GET THE BODY AND THE DETECTIVE ON THE FIRST PAGE!'      

 

FIRST PAGE THE ORDINARY WORLD/ BUSY DOING NOTHING     

Many investigators’ ‘ordinary’ lives tend to be unhappy places they want to get away from. 

Exceptions are the ‘Midsomer’ type format, but even here they are brief, if pleasant, intervals away from the action, and these interludes happen throughout the journey rather than at the beginning. e.g. Brunetti’s family life, Rebus & his intermittent relationship with his daughter.    


THE CALL TO ADVENTURE/THE PHONE RINGS   

The ‘Call’ (literally often a phone call) is generally not easily refused, because police officers are used to unreasonable hours and following orders, plus in many cases it allows them to escape from whatever unpleasantness is occurring in their private life.  

This also generally applies to investigators who are not police officers.  


CROSSING THE THRESHOLD/SCENE OF THE CRIME   

Entering the scene of crime is generally the threshold, and there are recognised universal procedures, which to some extent can be glossed over or only pertinent facts and initial responses needing to be explored. 

In a ‘Law & Order’ version this will be more detailed and often dealt with in explanatory flash backs. 

 

SOME EXAMPLES FROM MY BOOKS   

  • SOME DANCE TO FORGET  DI Fletcher is in a bar – his sergeant comes in and says the Snow White Killer has started again.  
  • THE RAIN IT NEVER STOPS Saturday15th May 1982. Wasdale, Lake District, Cumbria.  
  • The second body was harder to reach. It was lower down, caught in a dark cleft.’  
  • The initial investigating officer is a local sergeant, but Fletcher appears on page 5, about to be sent further north to deal with this case.   
  • VOICES IN THE DARKNESS  
  • A mother gets a message that her daughter has disappeared.  
  • DI Nicholson gets the same message top of page two.  


SECOND CHAPTER TESTS, ALLIES & ENEMIES/ WHO CAN YOU TRUST?   

As with crossing the threshold, most investigations involve usual procedures: interviewing witnesses and people related to the victims, getting feedback about forensic evidence, checking alibis, formulating theories etc.  

Most investigators work as leaders or members of a team: an assembly of eager, world weary, downright obstructive or troubled colleagues.  

If you are writing the ‘cat & mouse’ variation, it’s likely the killer makes an appearance fairly early on in the story. e.g. Opening line of DAUGHTER OF THE ROSE is: 'Fern Robinson didn't become a serial killer until after her mother had died.'  

(AND of course she is the hero of her own journey– so we may get some of her motivation, further intentions/plans, etc, but not always). 

If you’re writing the ‘whodunit’ there will be clues found by the investigators/other characters which may or may not help track the killer. 

Minor characters may offer helpful information or alternatively slow down, distract the investigator or muddy the waters for their own ends or cause him to become confused or side-tracked. 


MAIN STORY THE APPROACH/GETTING NOWHERE FAST 

Most fictional investigations mirror real life in that early developments eventually stall.   

It’s at this point we learn more about the investigator’s strengths and weaknesses. 

It’s when he realises the case is more complicated than he thought.  

The villain may commit another crime or undergo some crisis.  

Often the investigator begins to work alone (or with one other trusted deputy) at this stage and gets into more dangerous situations.  

The tension is ramped up – especially if the reader knows how close the villain is to the investigator or what she's planning to do next.     


THE ORDEAL/THE LONE WOLF OPTION  

The investigator decides on a course of action which is contrary to usual procedure, he becomes the lone wolf and this is likely to worry or anger his colleagues and superiors.  

It’s here where he goes into the strange or dangerous building, the cave, the wilderness, a dramatic chase, somewhere in the dark, somewhere he doesn’t know, out of his comfort zone. 

There may be a fight, he may see or meet the villain or his gang.  

But invariably this isn’t the outcome he was aiming or hoping for.  

Maybe now he knows enough to suspect the villain but she evades him.  

There is frustration, fear, the realisation it’s worse than he thought or he suspects that the rich and powerful are thwarting his efforts yet again.    


THE ROAD BACK/ DEALING WITH THE BASTARDS  

This is when the investigator is at his lowest ebb.  

He feels both frustrated and angry that it’s not just the villain who is getting away with it, but that the authorities are actively protecting her or protecting themselves from exposure.  

The ‘treasure’ is generally the knowledge of what is actually going on in this situation.   

This will be often something much bigger than the original crime.  He may consider giving up.  

This is maybe when the Mentor appears to reassure or challenge the investigator, whilst his colleagues and friends fear for his life or mental state. 


GETTING A RESULT . . . OR NOT?

MEETING WITH THE MENTOR / WHO CAN HE TURN TO?  

Most fictional investigators tend to be very self-motivated and not good at taking advice from others, particularly from superior officers. 

So a Mentor is not generally introduced till late in the story and will often be someone not connected with the events, someone the investigator occasionally goes to see when he can’t see his way forward.  

Maigret had his friend Dr Pardon; Brunetti has his wife Paola, Rebus used to go to see a priest, Fletcher talks to Louisa or Cassie appears to share her gnomic warnings . 

  

THE RESURRECTION/FINAL BATTLE  

This is the climactic scene when the investigator has a limited chance to solve the crime, identify the villain, expose the web of deceit and lies, or recognise who is manipulating the cover-up.   

There's often a final battle during which he might be injured, the villain &/or his sidekicks may die and the situation is resolved  . . .   

Or the scene ends on a knife edge: has the villain escaped? Is the investigator injured, killed, safe?  Has a sidekick saved him or been injured?     


RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR/ ACCEPTING REALITY  

The 'elixir' is sometimes bringing the villain to justice, but invariably in modern thrillers it more to do with how the investigator feels about himself as a consequence of his actions.  

Often it’s the knowledge he acquires and sometimes that may not be palatable – he may be further disenchanted with those in power who prevent or frustrate justice.  

He may often return, physically or mentally wounded, to a loved one or a place where he feels safe . . . or his lonely ordinary life.

BUT WHAT TYPE OF CRIME FICTION?

1.MIDSUMER MURDERS 

‘Midsomer Murders’- are usually set in a middle or upper class environment and often revolve around a murder that’s solved by friendly police or private detective or an amateur sleuth, with a younger side-kick.  

There’s only limited description of the crime or any gruesome details of the murder.  

Often the crime is to do with jealousy, money, disputed inheritances, old sleights or grudges, outdated or old fashioned attitudes, ancient buildings or exotic sites: Miss Marple, Poiret, Morse, Dalgliesh.  


2. LAW & ORDER 

These stories follow the efforts of detectives investigating suspects and a legal team in court trying to bring them to justice. 

Often uses flash backs – in written or televised versions.

 

3 POLICE ROUTINE.  

These focus on the work of the police and other professionals to identify the perpetrator and often include lots of detail about crime detection, interview and/or forensic techniques. 

The main character is usually a detective, again with a flawed character, but basically a good guy: Brunetti, Lewis, Vera, Silent Witness  


4.TARTAN OR SCANDI NOIR    

Scottish or Scandinavian versions of S&V, with less than likeable investigators, often deeply flawed and world weary, as well as having anti-hero traits - all of which is aggravated by th the social and the climatic environment. 

They often suffer from personal crises which form a major part of the story: Rebus, Wallander, Perez.

WHODUNNITS or CAT&MOUSE?

There are NINE recognised subgenres in crime thrillers, but there’s also a more general division between ‘Whodunits’ or 'Cyclopian' and ‘Cat & Mouse’or 'Hydraic' versions. These can be used in any of the nine subgenres.

  

WHODUNIT or CYCLOPS?  

In a 'whodunit?' the aim of the story is to discover, with the aid of clues, either with or before the detective, the perpetrator of the crime. 

I call this 'cyclopian' because it is one eyed - only or mainly the detective/hero's POV.  

The plot has to be necessarily complex.    


‘CAT & MOUSE’ or HYDRA  

A 'Cat & Mouse' thriller is when the reader knows the identity of the killer from the outset. 

The story follows the detective’s investigation while the killer strives to avoid detection and perhaps commit further crimes. 

Hydraic because it's many headed. 

The plot is less complicated to the reader, in that she knows more than the detective, which doesn't mean there are fewer twists and turns, but that the reader sees them from a variety of different angles.


5.'SEX & VIOLENCE'       

These are the opposite of Midsomers, they’re graphic, gruesome and unsentimental.  They contain forensic details of the crimes committed, feature psychopaths and serial killers and have detectives or investigators with deeply flawed characters like Rebus.  

I write this sort of thriller.  It’s sometimes called hard-boiled or even hard-bitten.  

I also prefer to write from multiple POVs, including the killer, as I find this far more exciting and tense to read as well as to create.  

It’s not so much about the cat & mouse search for who did it, but more about worrying about whether Fletcher will get past the state gatekeepers and catch the killer.  

It also means the reader gets to grips with the psychology of the killer.

6. PRIVATE EYE 

These focus on the work of a private detective or lone wolf, rather than the police, in finding and often punishing the perpetrator of the crime. 

These guys often operate outside the law. They just want to find and punish the bad guys. 

  

7. SPY 

Generally features an agent working for an intelligence agency - or not! 

Highly trained, physically special people who are trying to catch traitors or dangerous super villains about to cause large scale violence. 

Often in a variety of dangerous &/or exotic places: Le Carre, Deighton,

   

8. ITALIAN JOBS 

Often told from the criminals’ point of view and their attempts to avoid detection and capture.  

These usually have complicated scams, audacious robberies, heists or adventure, often humorous, also often in exotic locations: Brookmyre, 

 

9. HISTORICAL 

Before detectives existed, various people investigated crimes in the past, often working for powerful overlords and pay masters.

Obviously the background has to be fairly historically accurate and engaging: CJ Sansom,

POINT OF VIEW

WHOSE POINT OF VIEW

Different points of view have always been available to a writer and when you consider the frequent jumping from one characters’ POV to another's in TV soap operas, you know that modern audiences and readers are used to it.   

So how do you do this in a crime thriller?    


IT’S ALL ABOUT THE DISTANCE YOU WANT THE READER TO BE FROM THE CHARACTER     


OMNISCIENT NARRATOR  

The writer is directing the reader to see something he wants her to see or hear.   


A CHARACTER’S POV  

What the character is telling or showing the reader he can see, hear, smell, taste, touch or feel.    


INNER VOICE  

What we hear or see through the character’s thoughts, sensations or feelings, which may be imaginary and not actually physically present.

     

If you’re writing a WHODUNNIT you have restricted access to this.  You cannot inhabit the antagonist’s head at all, or any collaborators, witnesses or other people.  You are firmly in the POV of your detective hero OR the narrator.  

Although, sometimes the omniscient narrator can give the reader knowledge of what characters are thinking or don’t realise is happening.    


But if you are writing a ‘CAT & MOUSE' version a whole range of POV opens up.    

• You still have access to the omniscient narrator and  you can use it tell or show what the other characters aren’t necessarily aware of.  

• You might still spend most of the story inhabiting the lead character’s POV – but now also a lot more time from the POVs of the protagonist/murderer and other minor characters.   

• BUT avoid ‘head-hopping’ – jumping from one POV to another too much or too quickly – it gets confusing. 

• You can indicate any other character’s POV during dialogue by describing their body language, eye movements or other observations.  

• You can use italics or other type faces to indicate a different POV – this may also include a different style of POV e.g. Inner voice expressed as a diary or just random thoughts.   

• Change POV for an entire chapter - use name title &/or typeface to indicate this.   


DIFFERENT POVs ARE PROVIDED BY USING DIFFERENT PRONOUNS AND DIFFERENT TENSES     

First person is more up close than third.   

‘I can’t believe it!’ < ‘You can’t believe it!’  < ‘She can’t believe it!’< 'They can’t believe it!’                  

Present tense is closer to the event than past or future tenses.   

‘I stare at her.’ < ’I stared at her.’ < ‘I will stare at her.’ < ‘I would have stared at her.’ 

Inner voice doesn't need a pronoun and can be any tense!   

Touch him < Touched him < will touch him   


BUT the narrator voice can still tell or show - in any tense – at various psychic distances!  PSYCHIC DISTANCE?

MOVING POINT OF VIEW

NEW CHAPTER 

This the simplest and easiest way for the reader to follow.  

Change of time or space or characters POV from one chapter to another. Although this can become excitingly varied.   

In ‘This must be the place’ Maggie O’Farrell gives a different name and a different date (and different types of POV - first person then 'we', then 'you' followed by third person narrator!) for every chapter.   

‘The kind worth killing’ Peter Swanson  has different POV per named chapter, but then scarily one character kills another – so we experience it from 2 POVS - as the killer and the victim!

   

NEW SECTION   

Just use a line break or asterisks to indicate a break in time, place and/or POV.  Susan Hill in ‘A Question of Identity’ has a time shift of ten years after 35 pages and uses 17 different POVs before the first crime happens and the detective is called to the scene on page 137!  

She introduces a wide range of characters using 1st & 3rd person voices, internal thinking, dialogue, formal court transcript, a newspaper report and the italicised killer's internal thoughts.  

(Sometimes difficult to come back to if you put the book down for a few days, but works really well otherwise.)    


I use this approach in ‘Voices in the Darkness', ‘Those who cannot die’ and my most recent ‘Blackthorns of their own’ This works as long as the different types of POV are consistent.    

In ‘Voices in the Darkness I used italicised sections for my first person heroine. In Blackthorns of their own, I have two Ist person heroines – one in bold & one in italics, because eventually they’re both present simultaneously.    

I write my first drafts in this way and find this really useful to build tension – for both me writing it and the reader!  

As long as you’re consistent you can educate your reader into whatever breaks you need them to expect and go along with. 

   

NARRATED SHIFT OF POV 

This allows you to get from one scene to another, moving your characters from one place or time to another by switching into narrator mode within a chapter or a section.  

Think of it as time and space travel – like you get in films.

    

‘So what next?’ he said, through gritted teeth.  

Henson turned on his heel and walked towards the car.  

Kirk had no option but to follow him. 

Where the hell were they going?  

He opened his mouth to demand an explanation, but seeing the set of Henson’s face thought better of it.  

Henson drove carefully but with a manic intensity.  

Out of town, along the sea front, down towards that dead-end, everywhere deserted this time of year.  

He pulled up at the gates of the gite complex and sat staring at the sea.  

Gentle waves tripping on to the bare sand.  

Kirk waited.  

He could only think this is where it must have happened.

FREE INDIRECT STYLE

But you can also play a much more sophisticated game, using 'Free Indirect Style' (not 'speech' because it's mostly narration or observation)


Henson and Kirk are sitting in the car down by the beach.  

Henson is staring out at the waves with that dead behind the eyes look.   

We know something about Kirk’s thinking, he’s scared, daren’t ask, knows he may be implicated and so needs to know.  But what’s going on in Henson’s head.  He knows more and thinks Kirk is a liability.  

We can probably gauge that from his silence, but what if as narrator we tell the reader what he is thinking:    


Henson’s brain isn’t dead.  

Far from it.  Just the training makes him look like that.  He is worried about Kirk, because he thinks he’ll do a runner and then they’re both dead . . . and he promised Kirk’s dad he’d look after him, so how’s he going to keep him safe?  

He gets out of the car slowly so as not to get the lad worried.  

Offer him a ciggie? 

No he doesn’t smoke.   

He stares at the luminosity in the water: emerald green and ultramarine clashing with the deep purple.  

Such beauty in a place with hideous memories?  

How can he bear it?  

He hears Kirk sliding out of the car.  He waits, trusting his stillness to not make him flee.  

The answer comes to him.  Without turning round he speaks:  ‘The first time I came here was with your dad . . .’   

It’s not true; Kirk’s father didn’t do holidays or lying on beaches or even standing in the moonlight on a beach.  

He waited, holding his breath.  

'When was that then?’ came the doubtful response.  

Kirk didn’t believe him, but it was better than what he was like five minutes ago.  

He knew he needed the old guy’s help.   

Two men, one past his sell-by and the other too young to know jack shit.  

Christ, what a mess.

Two silhouettes in the hair cross of Jacob’s rifle sights.

     

Count the shifts of POV and then figure out where they are on the psychic distance scale, Ist person, 3rd person or internal voice.   

The flexibility of this allows the writer to move the reader all over the place and experience a range of emotions, concerns and fear.    

AND it’s something film can’t do - the narrator’s 3rd person questioning, musing or observational voice.  

And there am I as narrator shifting the point of view from one character to another.  

In the classroom I could come out of role and ask a question of the other roleplayers whether what was happening was believeable, probable or just to simply ask what they thought about what was happening . . . could or should we do it differently?

OVERLAPPING VOICES

Emma Darwin calls this ‘circles of consciousness’.  

Imagine a large circle within which are smaller overlapping circles like in a Venn diagram.   

The large circle is the narrator – you the writer - all knowing, omniscient voice.  

Within this are the varied awareness circles of your characters.  


So in the previous example there would be  circles representing  Kirk, Henson & Jacob and the narrator. 

If this is the only piece of writing you have for them then the Kirk & Henson circles obviously overlap in some ways:   

• Henson & Kirk’s father know/knew each other, may have worked together/ ex-soldiers possibly/similar ages etc  

• Kirk knows Henson knew/worked with his father, maybe something dangerous – probably illegal?  

• They both have some knowledge of the beach, but it’s not the same.  

• Jacob seems a completely separate entity – although he must know something about them and have a reason to possibly eliminate them.  

• The place seems important but it’s not clear why? But it impinges on all of them. 

• the narrator is present, but not entirely omniscient: 'He waited, holding his breath.' 

Where's that psychically?   


Now if you were going to do the same exercise for Little Red Riding Hood, what would it look like and what are the overlaps?  

What’s interesting is that although the girl overlaps with grandma, there will be large areas they don’t . . . one of which would be their different knowledge about the wolf . . .  AND also what the wolf is thinking!   


You don’t need to get obsessive about this and do hundreds of Venn diagrams, but just be aware that knowledge is not only variable but gives you the writer scope to play about with the reader’s perceptions.  


And think what tension can be aroused by the reader knowing what a character doesn’t know.   


Hence the power of ‘Excessive chirpiness does not bode well for the chirpee.’ in Hannibal Thomas Harris.


Another favourite of mine is from ‘Neither the sea nor the sand.’ by Gordon Honeycombe, in which the fifth chapter starts with the line:  ‘John Smith   was a postman.’  

This is after the reader knows there is a man who is so in love with his wife he refuses to be dead, and she is keeping his rotting corpse in her house . . . and she’s gone out that morning!

PSYCHIC DISTANCE

Imagine a camera with zoom and width settings and a sound recording facility (also touch/smell/taste!) 

The percentages here are arbitrary figures designed to give a sense of relative nearness. 

Most novels now mainly use a range roughly 80% to 170% with  limited use at the higher & lower ends of this range BUT  at its most sophisticated, it isn’t just 5 fixed settings, it’s an adjustable 0-200 variable facility.

    

LOW RESOLUTION  = third person/past tense/no names/descriptive/omniscient       

HIGH RESOLUTION = first person/present tense/internal thoughts/dialogue/unwitting.  


Here’s a simple example:    

1. The western Dordogne has a higher average rainfall than the Rhone Valley.    

2. The customers in the bar looked out at the pouring rain.   

3. Rick wished he’d come in the car, he was going to get soaked walking back home.   

4. 'Bloody hell,’ says Rick under his breath, ‘gonna get wet through going home in that.’    

5. bloody rain that cycle girl’s here again with her leggy friend red shoes ffs better have another coffee     


SETTING 1 LOW RESOLUTION(10%) 

Long distant/wide angle shot/sounds – landscape in which people / buildings are barely recognisable.   

Writing is descriptive/third person/authorial/telling the reader what she can mainly see/hear – but limited information about characters.

         

The landscape dappled in the pale sunshine.    Mainly a soft white palette, the Carboniferous limestone outfacing the yellowish green of the sheep cropped grass.     A blue sky hung above the low ridge of the upper fells, with only a few protrusions to the otherwise flat skyline.  

On the slope opposite where the main road wound its way from east to west there were numerous white stoned houses, almost camouflaged into their surroundings. Same rocks, slightly different constructions.

In the middle of this panorama sat the squat, square hulk of a medieval fortress, surrounding by a cluster of other buildings.    

Wisps of smoke rose into the cerulean blue emptiness.    

Only the occasional rumble of a vehicle, the bleating of sheep or call of a bird interrupted this timeless scene. 


SETTING 2 LOW/MEDIUM RESOLUTION(50%) 

Middle distance/sounds – people/buildings recognisably different – you can tell what activity they’re engaged in/surnames/relative descriptions (e.g. the tall man in the suit, the girl sitting by the shop doorway with a begging bowl)  

Writing is still descriptive & semi-authorial – although this could now be from a named person’s POV but it will be still third person.

         

Slightly set aside from the cluster round the fortress was a large house with several outbuildings gathered around it.    

It was fenced off from the general colourations: red and orange leaves denoting non-native species, ironwoods probably, a few surviving flowers still fluttering in the autumn breeze.     

A man was standing by the gate, wearing a uniform of some sort; black with white markings, wearing a peaked cap, dark glasses.     

He was looking away from the house towards the road junction which gave access to the house from the main road. 

A long  up hill lane.    

He turned to look back at the house.    

A slight noise seemed to have attracted his attention. 


SETTING 3 MEDIUM RESOLUTION (100%) 

Observations of people/expressions/activities in detail including smells – POV from one or more characters either internally or voiced in ordinary cool dialogue e.g. ‘Hello can you tell me the way to the pharmacy?’ said Rachel, as she realised that the man had been drinking.     

This writing evokes emotional engagement through description rather than indicated/voiced (telling not showing) 

Still likely to be third person, but shifting it to first person would adjust towards setting 4.

         

Pauline looked out of the window. 

He didn’t seem to have heard the clatter.

What did it matter? It was only the kettle.    

She looked through the doorway into the living room, Millie didn’t seem to have noticed either, her attention still focussed on her colouring book.    

‘Are you alright, darling,’ she said, wanting some contact with her daughter.    

‘What did you say mummy,’ said the girl, but she didn’t look up.    

Pauline looked back at the man.

He had heard the noise.    

Was he coming to see?

 

SETTING 4 MEDIUM/HIGH RESOLUTION(150%) 

High/close up resolution – conversations between known characters, indications of feelings rather than telling  e.g. She looks down at her hands, a slight smile appearing at the corner of her mouth.     

Mainly dialogue or internal dialogue rather than description/first person/ emotionally engaged or charged/showing not telling - different POVs including some internal thoughts. 

Could now include touching & tasting.

 

She dropped the kettle.  Damn. Is it broken?   

She glances out of the window. Bastard’s still there.  Gun at the ready.    

What is he thinking she is going to do? Make a run for the hills.    

‘Are you alright darling,’ she asks softly, looking at the tousled head bent over the book, almost gasping at the falseness of that.    

As if anything is alright any more.

 

SETTING 5 HIGH RESOLUTION(200%)

Close up/narrow beam internal dialogue – at its most extreme ‘stream of consciousness’ unpunctuated random thoughts – first person – maybe even head hopping without any indication who’s head you’re in.    

Could include descriptions of people/places/surroundings/things but entirely from the internal POV:

  

Bloody kettle. Clumsy cow. Look at him. Yeh, he heard. Well he can go jump. Is it broken? What am I going to do?   Bloody fifty third state. Ha. You can dream on, son  . . . this is still Yorkshire!

DIALOGUE

ALL YOU DON'T SAY!

NOT ONLY CAN I NOT RESIST STARING AT PEOPLE - I AM ALSO A SHAMELESS EAVESDROPPER

It’s important to find the character’s voice, so that even if you don’t add ‘George said’ – the reader knows who is speaking from his tone, vocabulary and volume. Avoid lots of he said - she said.  


LOOKS AND GLANCES  

Dialogue is also interweaved with comments about the characters physical reactions, body language, which help the reader, but NOT  adverbs, so we’re talking about facial expressions, body movements, e.g. 

She raised an eyebrow, he shuffled in his seat, a tell-tale scratch of the side of his nose, arms folded, glaring, not turning round etc.

 'Nothing serious, is it?' Brunetti asked, nodding towards her foot and choosing to avoid discussion of her soul for the moment. 

('The Girl of his Dreams' Donna Leon.)   

Listen to how people talk.  

Sounds obvious but we are all selective listeners – we fill in gaps, finish sentences, edit out the errs, umms and repetitions.  

Dialogue is not clean. 

It is fractured. 

We stop mid-sentence, change subject because we are thinking as we speak.  

It is not a speech where everything has been worked out before and even practised. 

Cleaned up dialogue sounds wrong.     


PUNCTUATION  

Learn to use punctuation properly, so you can use it expressively, and try to shake off the narrow kind of "correct" syntax and grammar.  

E.g. What -- you don't know, well, what I'm talking about? You do really . . . Don't look like that, it's same as you do when you're -- reach us that glass, would you -- I mean, it's the same as when you're trying to get work-writing out of your ears. Thank you.  

Like freewriting -- maybe try that? And same again?   


MY MOTHER HAD A TELEPHONE VOICE!  

And we say things differently depending on who we are talking to.  

So imagine telling your partner you have lost your job. 

Then imagine telling your elderly parent. 

How would the vocabulary and tone be different? Why?    

Use dialogue to convey/ show allsorts about characters.  

Readers ‘hear’ vocabulary, tone, emphasis, accent when people talk.  

They make informed guesses about their emotional state, their class, their age (on the telephone!) their education, their political bias (vocab speaks volumes), their gender etc.  

And you can use dialogue to reveal all sorts of information about your characters without having to tell the reader.    


BE RUTHLESS 

• Know why you are using dialogue – give it a job and make it earn its place.  

• Slabs’ of dialogue are as bad as ‘slabs’ of description. 

• There aren’t many situations in conversation when one person says more than a few lines, most people can’t tolerate that, unless there’s some formal reason for it e.g. a speech, a telling off, someone giving detailed information etc (most people’s attention span is less than 12 seconds, unless the speaker is riveting, funny, sexy or dangerous!) 

• Never use dialogue as padding. 


LISTEN TO WHAT THE VOICES ARE SAYING AND WHAT THEY SOUND LIKE. 

We know far more than the words, when people are talking. 

Tone gives us mood. 

Language can tell us about power.  

Think about how mood changes what we say: 'I'm not sure  what you mean . . . ' could be sarcastic, ironic, scared, sneering, arrogant, angry, mock innocent, geuninely puzzled, sad, encouraging etc.  

Think how you could make it clear to the reader WITHOUT USING ADVERBS!! 

 

LISTEN TO THE VOICES IN YOUR HEAD

90 THOUSAND WORDS

HOW DO YOU MAKE PROGRESS

THIS IS WHAT I DO!    

I have the idea – the premise – the voices start talking to me – I see a scene where it might start so I write it - but it rarely ends up being the opening scene !  

AND it’s got to be immediately into the story – start in the middle! Body and detective on the first page.    

BUT I’ve just re-read Susan Hill’s ‘A Question of Identity’ and DCI Serrailler's involvement in the case isn’t until page 137. So rules are there to be broken!

Once I ‘m up and running it tends to just flow – see ACTION LIST - although I do have a least two starts that got stuck at chapter 3- so it’s not foolproof!                              

OR  

THIS IS WHAT SOME OTHER PEOPLE DO

  

EMPTY SANDWICH FILLERS  

Write the beginning and the end and then fill it with a series of logically connected chunks.     


JIGSAWYERS  

Write a section or scene from different places/times in the story (sometimes without an overall picture – like not having the jigsaw box cover) and gradually assemble the ‘pieces’ and organise them into a completed puzzle!    

But most thrillers follow a basic formula.                     


HERE ARE THREE BASIC FORMULAS  

1. Move the story from high intensity (action, argument, mega tension, drama) to low intensity (dialogue, simmering tension, lots of character development).  Nothing should be without tension, and conflict should carry throughout.   

CALM - ACTION - CALM - ACTION.   

You can play with the timing and the length of these sections, too.  

SLOW - FAST - SLOW - FAST.  

But as it goes on, the slower periods should begin to lessen.  The sharp, fast, violent sections get sharper, faster, nastier.   

The final battle should be a roller coaster ride through violence, cliff-edge stuff and death.                               OR   

2. Character wants something, something or someone stands in their way, character is tested on how far she’ll go (and what she’ll do) to accomplish her desires.                                

OR   

3. Bad things happen, it gets worse, it gets complicated, it twists & turns, and maybe just maybe it all gets cleaned up. 

(Rarely in my stories - see research)

HOW DO YOU ACTUALLY WRITE THE DAMN THING?

ACTION LIST 

Once I’ve started I make an ACTION LIST.  I know I’ll probably have at least four or five POVs.  

•My detective and his current sidekick. 

•The killer and any ally they might have.  

• A victim and his surviving partner, friends, family etc.  

• Other competing people involved in  the same case – with different agendas, motivation and access.   

The action list has columns for each one of these POVs.  

So before I start the next piece of writing I draw the columns, write the initials of the POVs at the top and then write roughly what’s going to happen to each person.  

This is initially handwritten scribbles, often early morning download of my waking dreams, brainstorming, very rough, lots of alterations, crossings out, abbreviations, drawings, timing calculations, sequencing, new ideas, realisations etc. 

I then decide the order in which I'm going to write each section – generally one or maybe two per POV per chapter.  

The POV may be written from 1st, 2nd or 3rd person – omniscient narrator or inner voice - BUT generally the same way for each different character or group of characters - although this can change in specific circumstances.   


I WRITE SCENES 

I did this all through my previous life as a scriptwriter, role player and director. 

For me it's all looks and glances. 

So each section in the different columns is effectively a scene – real time in one place – unless the scene requires a change of scene, e.g. a car journey - it’s still one scene to me.  


HOW MANY WORDS IS THIS?   

This gets me to about 5000 words generally - although the different POV sections may be of varying lengths, e.g. my serial killer in my most recent book has only half page contributions of inner thoughts – not scenes. 

  

FIND YOUR RHYTHM 

This has become a rhythm for me; so that I can often write an entire scene or section in one go.

   

RE-READ, EDIT, RE-READ, EDIT. 

I’m always re-reading, re-editing as I go.  

It’s like being a wood-turner or working in clay – you should continuously be reworking the material until the desire dies, but  

‘A POEM IS NEVER FINISHED . . .                         ONLY  ABANDONED.’

HOW DO YOU KEEP TRACK?

THINGS WHICH WILL HELP YOU KEEP GOING AND KNOW WHERE YOU ARE.   


CAST LIST. 

Make and keep updating a cast list, including surname, first name, DOB, info (relationship to other characters), DOD (a lot of people die in my books!) & age in different stories. 

This is crucial if you are writing a series.  

Don’t call your characters similar names. 

Even starting with the same initial can be confusing, if you have characters named Jane, Janet, Jenny, Jilly then that’s a big turn-off.

  

TIMETABLE 

Make and keep updating/adjusting a timetable.  This helps me to ensure continuity and it’s just an online document version of the Action List I use to write the first draft.  

This is how I keep up with when and what’s happening with all my principal characters – particularly the ones whose POV I'm writing in.  

So again another Word document table: columns include headings for chapter & page, four or five principal characters and then each row indicates the time and very briefly what happens to each character/s in that scene.     


WORDCOUNT. 

Make and keep updating/adjusting a chapter, page & word count.  

I have an Excel spreadsheet on which I keep a record of how many words I’ve completed for each chapter – I average about 5000 – and so after writing say nine chapters, I know how many words I’ve written and how many more I need to do to reach 90k – about 17/18 chapters normally.  

Sometimes a chapter might be a bit longer or shorter and this makes me interrogate it to see why, but if it still seems right that’s OK!   

Nobody told me to do this!  

It just seems to have evolved as I became more and more confident . 

And now I realise it acts as both an incentive driver and a reassurance that I’m doing OK.

BUILDING, WEAVING & CUTTING

Don’t just read your work aloud.  

If you hit an uncertain point, let someone else read it aloud.  

You’ll hear things in the way they say it.  

The story is written in your voice, yes, but it’s written for other people. 

What does it sound like coming from someone else’s mouth?    

Some people can’t stop themselves from immediately proofreading what they’ve written – I think it’s best left overnight – come to it fresh next day. (Actually I don't always do this!) 

 

If you’re not sure about a word, sentence, or whole section, DON’T fiddle with it right now. 

Writers start fiddling, they fiddle for hours while nothing else gets done. Highlight it in yellow. 

Then CARRY ON until it’s time to edit.    

Highlight anything which makes you squirm even if there needs to be something there! 

Know that you WILL replace it!

  

BE RUTHLESS - CUT, CUT, CUT.  

Cut the first chapter of your story. Cut the first paragraph of a chapter. 

Cut the first sentence of a paragraph.  

Be on a mission to tighten.  

Assume your job is to tell as little story as possible to get the point across.  

How little can you tell, how late can you enter, to still ensure that people 

a) understand what’s going on  

b) feel something about it  

c) think about it after they’re read it?      

Cut ‘thens’ and adverbs, especially after any speech marks.

Interrogate every adjective, simile and metaphor – these are the very ‘baddest’ babies – be brutal! 

   

QUESTION 

After a day’s writing, ask: is your heroine making headway?  Did she push on the story more than it pulled on her?  

Could she be replaced with a packet of crisps being passed around?  

Is she going with the flow or making you sweat with fear or anger or sheer bloody-mindedness?    


BACKUP!!! 

Remember to save everything. 

You're unlikely to rewrite something as fluently as you did first time round early one morning when you were so vividly inside someone's head as they charged into battle!   

Double check.

HOW MUCH RESEARCH?

DON’T!   

Rankin says he doesn’t until after he’s finished the first draft.  

‘Ah!’ You might say: ‘But that’s because he knows his setting and his characters so well, he doesn’t need to.’   

However he does acknowledge people he has consulted or places he’s found anew.  

But the main thing is the characters and the story.   

So concentrate on that!    

DO!  

Most of my stories are set in places I know well, although I did meet someone once who sets all his crime thrillers in the US, but had never been there until after his fourth book was published! He just uses Google street images.  

So I do that now as well.   

Place settings can be researched from your laptop, although I would argue that the atmosphere of a place like my childhood memory of a ‘fairy glen’ in ‘SOME DANCE TO FORGET’ owes more to that visceral memory than the disappointing present reality.   


TECHNICAL STUFF  

Guns, forensics, causes of death and other injuries.  If you don't know look it up - BUT you will end up searching on some very worrying sites!  

In ‘A RIPPLE OF LIES’ I needed to know if it was possible for someone to kill at a distance of about 200 metres.  

So I now know that the longest recorded distance kill was over 3000 metres and it takes about 5 seconds for the shot to reach its target!   

Writing ‘THE RAIN IT NEVER STOPS’ I spent a lot of time on sites investigating the UK government’s lies about what happened to the Belgrano  . . .   

My long-time serial killer, Fern Robinson, has become an expert at hiding her tracks, changing her name and appearance.  

This was easier in my books set in the 80s before DNA testing, but now she has to especially careful.  

‘THOSE WHO CANNOT DIE' is set more recently so I invented an unknown son for Fletcher who is a police geek, so that he and other characters could do the stuff Fletcher doesn’t understand.  

However the worst research was investigating the government’s continuing cover ups of senior politicians and their business cronies involved in child sex abuse.

What I disclose in my book 'VOICES IN THE DARKNESS' is nothing compared to the reality!

  

ESCAPE CLAUSE  

The detective does NOT have to solve the crime or catch the villain.  

Even with all the technical and scientific advances killers don’t get caught and often the police have no idea what happened or who may have committed the crime.  

Especially crimes committed by the rich and powerful who can continue to hide their involvement or still avoid punishment even when everyone knows and the evidence is clear!   

This rarely happens in most fiction – readers want to feel this is how it should be!  

I think otherwise!

PROBLEM SOLVING

Keep answering this question: “WHAT IS THIS STORY ABOUT?” 

In a short sentence. 

One sentence only.  

What are you trying to say with this story? 

Not, “what’s the plot,” but the intense, elemental question of what is this story really about? 

When you answer it, write it on a Post-It note. 

Stick that post it note somewhere right in front of you. 

Let it remind you as you write.  

Keep checking it IS what it's about . . . . because this is your premise and your elevator pitch and your title.

   

GOT WRITER'S BLOCK?  

Skip the section you’re working on.  Nobody said you had to work chronologically. 

Writer’s block might also mean something is wrong in the story.  

You might need to cut the last section you wrote because something in there it doesn’t feel right and your writer’s instinct can feel it.  

Maybe go back and do an outline - just a quick jotting down of what the story should look like.

  

STUDY HOW PEOPLE TELL STORIES.  

Study commercials. 

Study news broadcasts. 

Study news articles. 

Study jokes and how different people tell them in different ways. 

Who’s good at it and why? 

Study anything that has a narrative flow.


WHERE CAN YOU GET A RECHARGE  

David Thornburg tells us there are FOUR places we can be re-energised creatively. 


THE CAVE.  

This can be literally your room or just inside your head, but basically it’s somewhere you can be alone. 

It can be when you’re driving your car or walking in the woods or watching the waves tumble onto a beach. 

Find out where this is for you and what makes it both safe and undisturbed.   


THE WATERING HOLE.  

This could be your local bar, the coffee machine or any place where you meet people. 

Talking and listening to other people can provide you with all sorts of imaginative gifts . . . and if you’re like me just sitting people watching is both a pleasure and a source of many gestures, activities, quirks, gossip, which you can put into your stories.    


THE CAMPFIRE.   

This is where the serious conversations take place, whether you’re contributing or just listening. 

This is where you’ll hear philosophy, politics, plans, dreams and other people’s stories.   

LIFE  

This is what you remember happened to you, how it felt, why it hurt or made you happy and these are things you can call on for your characters. Everyone  has their own treasure trove stored inside their bank of experiences .  

And make sure that you have  STORY ‘BOTHERING’TIME

the stuff that nags at you that's not right, missing, embarrassing, confusing or irritating. Every day. In the shower. In the car. Walking to the shops. 

Recognise when this is for you.  

Get some sleep. 

SLEEP is where your brain rewrites the stories you tell yourself.

SOME STUFF ABOUT EDITING

EDIT, CUT, REWRITE ETC

LIFE IS MUCH EASIER ON A WORD DOCUMENT    

If you’re just starting, pay for some professional help!   Being literate and having a university education does not qualify you to write literature!  

I was fortunate to find a really good editor and she taught me so much, for example:   

‘If you must use those dots, they are called ‘ellipses’ and you can only have THREE!’  

‘You’ve no idea how to use a semi-colon, so pay attention to Word – it’s generally right!’   

'Exclamation marks are not meant to be used like confetti, Rick!'  


‘YOUR’ STYLE  

I know now – but I didn’t at the beginning – that I like to write short punchy sentences – often only a phrase or even just a word or two.  

This is fine when the action’s going on or for reflective internal voices, but not so good for descriptive passages – so I’ve adapted how I construct the scenes bearing this in mind.

    

THE REVIEW TAB  

This is really useful especially when you’ve asked someone to edit your writing.  Learn how to use it to suit your style. 

   

RE-READ FOR EVER  

Eventually you’ll find a rhythm for this as well.  

Don’t be precious - ‘kill your babies’ – particularly those pesky adverbs and those lovely lyrical bits!  

But also learn to leave it for enough time for you to come at it again with a fresh and a more critical eye.



CUT THE PAPER UNTIL IT'S STONE 

It will become more and more solid and less alterable, until . . .  you won’t see the typos even if they are hippos!    


FIND SOME READERS  

The best people are those who’ve spent a lifetime correcting other people’s writing, e.g.  in the teaching profession those deputies and Heads of Year who’ve spent hours correcting other teachers’ reports! 

   

LET IT GO  

Eventually you’ll destroy it. It will never be perfect! Let it out into the world.

   

A POEM IS NEVER FINISHED ONLY ABANDONED.

   

I’m not going to talk about publishing and marketing here – there’s plenty of other sites which will help you do this.