The Crime Writers’ Association

Final Tips for Winning Entries

by a Debut Dagger reader /marker.

Okay, so you’re going to write a crime novel. Good luck. What follows is my seven rules on how to approach it. There could be more, but seven is such a nice number.

First – don’t be dull.

You’re writing a crime novel and there’s no excuse for it to be boring. You’re dealing with big themes here – darkness, fear, mystery, hatred, all that jazz. It may be many things but it ain’t tedious.

You have two aims in storytelling – creating and building characters and propelling the plot. I don’t care if you have a message to deliver or a serious underlying theme, if you don’t make it live, no one will get it.

Second – make your characters not only believable but compelling. That doesn’t mean they all have to have some kind of super power but they should walk off the page and wander around the room with the reader. Without solid characters it doesn’t matter how wonderful your plot is. So make them real – and don’t have them talking to themselves. People don’t do that to any great degree.

Third – make your dialogue sing. Read it back to yourself. If it sounds fake and clunky, then it is fake and clunky.

And avoid exclamation marks.

Fourth – don’t forget to inject some humour. Even in the darkest moments there will be someone who will make some kind of remark. It might be off colour. It might be in poor taste. But they will make it.

Fifth – keep your synopsis as clean and lean as you can. You only have so many words to convey your entire plot so select what incidents are vital to the furtherance of that plot or the character’s journey. You don’t need to include every character – only those who have a direct bearing on the narrative. If a reader has to go back and read something more than once to get a sense of it, you’ve lost them.

Sixth – Be on your guard against lengthy exposition. Show don’t tell has become a cliché but it doesn’t make it any less important.

Seventh – Don’t be dull.

Yes, I know that’s repeating the first point but that’s how important it is. Grab the reader from the first line and hold them hostage until the last. Shock them. Amaze them. Mystify them. But above all, entertain them.

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