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Who Killed Little Johnny Gill? by Kathryn McMaster

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Listed below are my top ten strategies for writing crime fiction and thrillers that will please the reader and make publishers start groping for their chequebooks.


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1) Know the market.
Read very widely. As many authors as possible, less many books. Issues read one book by Patricia Cornwell or Linwood Barclay, then move on. You know their shtick. Find what else is out there. Which means also reading the classics, knowing the history of the genre, and reading a good amount of fiction in translation too. It also means reading established track record non-fiction. If you're writing political espionage thrillers, as an example, you need to know the political, military and security bacground If you don't, your readers will - and will also be caught out.

2) Understand the location where the leading edge lies.
The greatest names (eg: Coben, Rankin, Reichs) are certainly not the most current. They built their reputations a long time ago. Try to locate the sexiest (biggest selling, most praised, state-of-the-art, prize winning) debut novels. That's what editors are buying today. That is the market you're competing in.

3) Don't just trot out the cliches.
You've got a murderer have you? A terrorist bomb plot? Be tough on your own. These things are tired old cliches. They are able to work if you handle these questions new or dazzling way, nevertheless the old ways are no longer enough.

4) Get complex. Your plot almost definitely needs a brain-aching level of complexity, and a surprising number of well-planned, well-executed twists. Because modern crime authors have become really good at developing complex but plausible plots, and since modern thriller writers have become so adept at delivering a limitless chain of impossible-to-see-it-coming twists, you cannot afford to be under devilishly clever yourself. With rare exceptions, simple no longer sells.

5) Stick to the darkness.
Your book should be dark and tough. That's your entry ticket towards the genre. What you do there may be very varied, but cute, cosy crime is a very limited market now. If you want to write cosy crime, then expect a smaller readership and meagre sales.

6) Do not forget jeopardy.
Crime novels now will also be thrillers. It's not OK for the detective to resolve the mystery and explain all this to a hushed and respectful audience. To the contrary, (s)he's got to stay in fear of his/her life. It offers to be white knuckle and also intellectually satisfying.

7) Focus on character.
Crime and thriller plots are typically forgettable, and often feel very samey anyway. Characters, however, never leave us: Holmes, Marlowe, Elvis Cole, Hannibal Lecter. If you find a strong character, and fit everything in else reasonably competently, then you certainly quite likely have fiction that'll sell.

8) Write well!
Bad writing will in all probability kill your chances of success. And quite right too. You don't have to be flowery. You need to be completely competent.

9) Be economical.
Thrillers need to be taut. Check your book for needless chapters, your chapters for needless paragraphs, your paragraps for needless sentences, and your sentences for needless words. Then do everything over again. Twice.

10) Be perfectionist.
Good isn't good enough. Dazzling may be the target. Being tough with ourselves is the essential first ingredient. Getting another person to be tough along with you is quite possibly the second.

I said ten tips, didn't I? What the heck, here's an eleventh:

11) Don't stop trying.
Be persistent. You improve by doing. You'll improve. Consider building your skills, engaging using the industry, or getting editorial advice. Dozens of things will increase your maturity as an author. Now write that thriller, polish it - and then sell on it. Best of luck!