The Crime Writers’ Association

More Tips from a Debut Dagger Marker

Just before we start, Debut Dagger entrants shoud be aware that all our readers (markers) have different viewpoints and different elements to a crime novel light their candles. What one likes, another may not; this goes for sub-genre as well as aspects to the writing. However, the points below are relevant to all types of entry. We hope you find them helpful.

PLOTTING: Often the key to plotting a crime novel is motive. Though murder can be committed on a sudden impulse, it will usually make a better plot if the killer is driven into planning a murder because of a strong motive. The motive should be hidden, the killer will acquire an alibi – and there will be suspects who also have motives which might have driven them to murder.

In a crime novel, characters are not what they seem. It is the process of unpeeling away the false faces they present to the world that can make the task of discovering the truth so difficult and the story compelling.

Hide truth among a tangle of lies.

SUB PLOTS: One or two subplots will be needed, echoing or complementing the main plot in some way.

OUTLINES: Look on an outline as a route map that you don’t have to follow if the writing throws up an interesting alternative. Let your characters drive your plot. (But for the Debut Dagger, ensure your SYNOPSIS spells it out; it contributes a lot to your marks: see previous article.)

FIRST PARAGRAPHS need to capture the reader immediately, make them realise here is something different, something interesting.

CONFLICT & TENSION will keep the reader turning the pages.

DIALOGUE: Use to create conflict and tension, convey information, display character. Careful when using accents, they can be annoying to the reader, go for the rhythm of the words rather than phonetic spellings.

BACKGROUNDS: Readers like to learn something while they read; contemporary issues can provide interesting backgrounds and drive characters’ behaviour.

CLUES are indications that things may not be what they seem IF the reader is bright enough to pick them up. Red herrings are clues that send readers down wrong alleyways.

GOOD WAYS OF HIDING CLUES: In lists. Make them do two jobs: a piece of drama that drives the pot forward can also contain a piece of information that gets lost in the drama. Plant a clue in two halves. Check how Agatha Christie does it – her skills are timeless.

Use the unexpected to keep reader turning the pages. FORESHADOWING can create credibility.

PACE: Build a series of peaks in your plot, creating suspense.

DENOUEMENT should be unexpected. Don’t snatch at the final reveal, build up to it. It should answer the main questions but maybe not some of the minor. Sort out subplots before the main denouement.

Check that by the end of the book you have provided the reader with the answers to all the main questions: Who, What, When, Where, Why and How. Don’t leave them all to the final pages.

Find ways of conveying information to the reader without spelling it out. Make the reader work alongside the investigating protagonist as the truth slowly dawns.



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