The Crime Writers’ Association

Debut Dagger Checklist

  1. Have you followed the rules?

This is the easy bit, so don’t risk disqualification by exceeding the word limit (don’t do this, not by even a few words) or forget to take your name off the manuscript. Word count for the entry form is that of your novel opening plus synopsis, minus the title and any headings.


  1. Is your entry memorable?

The opening events, your characters and the context to the story should be distinct and stick in the mind. Same goes for the title and we look for evidence of originality in the synopsis, too.


  1. Can we tell it’s crime from the opening?

We’re after any interpretation of crime, from mystery to psychological suspense, detective to spy story to cybercrime, and anything in between. But make sure we can tell it’s going to be a crime story, even if the clues are subtle.


  1. Does your opening zing?

Something that grabs the reader and leaves them desperate to know what’s going to happen next is going to have more impact, in a competition assessed on the opening, than a background-builder or a slow burn.


  1. Will we root for – or love to hate – your characters?

Characterisation is one of the eight scoring criteria of the Debut Dagger. Make your characters come to life and, in 3,000 words, don’t introduce too many.


  1. Is your prose perfect?

Get someone expert to read it thoroughly, or get it copy-edited. Try to be evocative with your vocab – why use walked when you can use strode – and scintillating with your style, while always being clear.


  1. Are you engaging reader emotions?
    That’s what we all want from fiction. Excitement, fear, apprehension, delight, ideally through your characters, who we need to care about in order to feel it.


  1. Have things changed by the end of the opening section?
    The situation and ideally the characters should have moved on from where they were at the beginning.


  1. Have you made the most of the word count?
    It’s never a good idea to send a significantly shorter entry than the 3,000-word maximum. The more words, the more potential to hook the reader, so give yourself that advantage.


  1. That goes for the synopsis too!
    Is your novel synopsis clear and comprehensive? In 1,500 words you have space to talk about sub-plots and anything notable about how the story is told. Best write an attention-grabbing elevator pitch at the top, and please include what happens at the very end of your novel.

Don’t forget the deadline is Monday 28 February, 6pm GMT. Read the full rules here.

You can purchase your entry voucher before you enter so as to make the process less stressful. It’ll generate a code: keep it safe. Then when you’re ready to enter, click on the main product entry and you’ll see where to apply your code and access the entry form.

Any questions, problems or dilemmas, email Dea:


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