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Who Killed Little Johnny Gill? by Kathryn McMaster

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Here are my top ten methods for writing crime fiction and thrillers that will please the reader and make publishers start groping because of their chequebooks.

1) Know the market.
Read very widely. As many authors as possible, less many books. In case you have read one book by Patricia Cornwell or Linwood Barclay, then go forward. You know their shtick. Determine what else is out there. That means also reading the classics, having the history of the genre, and reading plenty of fiction in translation too. In addition, it means reading the appropriate 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 you will be caught out.

2) Understand in which the leading edge lies.
The most important names (eg: Coben, Rankin, Reichs) are not the most current. They built their reputations in the past. Try to locate the sexiest (biggest selling, most praised, most innovative, prize winning) debut novels. That is what editors are buying today. This is the market you're competing in.

3) Don't merely trot out the cliches.
You've got a murderer have you? A terrorist bomb plot? Be tough with yourself. These things are tired old cliches. They can work if you handle them in a new or dazzling way, however the old ways are not enough.

4) Get complex. Your plot almost certainly needs a brain-aching level of complexity, as well as 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 never-ending chain of impossible-to-see-it-coming twists, you cannot afford to be lower than devilishly clever yourself. With rare exceptions, simple no more sells.

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

6) Don't forget jeopardy.
Crime novels now can also be thrillers. It's not OK for the detective to fix the mystery and explain all this to a hushed and respectful audience. On the other hand, (s)he's got to stay in fear of his/her life. It offers to be white knuckle and also intellectually satisfying.

7) Pay attention to character.
Crime and thriller plots are often forgettable, and often feel very samey anyway. Characters, however, never leave us: Holmes, Marlowe, Elvis Cole, Hannibal Lecter. If you discover a strong character, and do everything else reasonably competently, then you quite likely have fiction that'll sell.

8) Write well!
Bad writing will, without doubt kill your chances of success. And quite right too. It's not necessary to be flowery. It's necessary that you be completely competent.

9) Be economical.
Thrillers have to be taut. Check your book for needless chapters, your chapters for needless paragraphs, your paragraps for needless sentences, along with your sentences for needless words. Then do all of it over again. Twice.

10) Be perfectionist.
Excellent isn't good enough. Dazzling is the target. Being tough with ourselves is the essential first ingredient. Getting somebody else to be tough along is quite possibly the second.

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

11) Don't surrender.
Be persistent. You learn by doing. You'll improve. Think of building your skills, engaging together with the industry, or getting editorial advice. All those things will increase your maturity as an author. Now write that thriller, polish it - and then sell on it. Best of luck!