The Crime Writers’ Association

Tips 2017/1 for Debut Dagger Entrants

Each of these tips comes from one individual Debut Dagger reader. Remember, another individual might have a different outlook and individuals don’t always agree – which is why each Debut Dagger entry is always read by at least two readers.

It’s also worth saying that we’ve all read stories which do things we thought we didn’t like and have fallen in love with them all the same…


1) Make your main character “active” not passive.  We want to experience it from their point of view, not have things “done to them”.

2) Avoid clichés.  Both written phrases and also with settings and plots.  Think of something new to say and a new way to say it.

3) Get into the action quickly.  If you’re having to provide a really complicated back story before you start your story, then there’s probably something wrong with your story.

4) Give your character an interesting situation, a problem they have to handle, a challenge they have to meet.

5) Don’t fall in love with your writing at the expense of your story. That’s probably the bit you’ll have to cut.

6) Please tell your story in the past tense! Using the present doesn’t add immediacy or involvement – it just leaves the reader on the alert for that nasty moment when your tenses go all cludgy because you need an actual past and it doesn’t quite work.

7) If you go for the fashionably trauma-in-the-past main character, let it affect their actions in the present. For example, if you’d been mugged in a car park, how would that affect how you approach car parks now? It’s much more intriguing for the reader to “see” odd behaviour which will point towards the big reveal later.


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