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Who Killed Little Johnny Gill? by Kathryn McMaster

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Here are my top ten tips for writing crime fiction and thrillers that can please the reader and make publishers start groping for chequebooks.

1) Know the market.
Read very widely. As much authors as possible, less many books. In case you have read one book by Patricia Cornwell or Linwood Barclay, then move on. You know their shtick. Discover what else is out there. This means also reading the classics, having the history of the genre, and reading a lot of fiction in translation too. What's more, 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 do not, your readers will - and are caught out.

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

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

4) Get complex. Your plot almost definitely needs a brain-aching level of complexity, plus a surprising number of well-planned, well-executed twists. Because modern crime authors have become really good at developing complex but plausible plots, and because modern thriller writers have grown to be so adept at delivering an endless chain of impossible-to-see-it-coming twists, you can't afford to be less than devilishly clever yourself. With rare exceptions, simple no more sells.

5) Stick to the darkness.
Your book has to 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 definitely a limited market now. In order to write cosy crime, then expect a little 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 it all to a hushed and respectful audience. However, (s)he's got to stay in fear of his/her life. It's got to be white knuckle as well as intellectually satisfying.

7) Pay attention to character.
Crime and thriller plots are easily forgettable, and often feel very samey anyway. Characters, on the other hand, never leave us: Holmes, Marlowe, Elvis Cole, Hannibal Lecter. If you realise a strong character, and try everything 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 won't need to be flowery. You do have to be completely competent.

9) Be economical.
Thrillers must be taut. Check your book for needless chapters, your chapters for needless paragraphs, your paragraps for needless sentences, as well as your sentences for needless words. Then do it all over again. Twice.

10) Be perfectionist.
Excellent isn't good enough. Dazzling may be the target. Being tough with yourself is the essential first ingredient. Getting someone else to be tough together with you is quite possibly the second.

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

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