Saturday, 22 November 2008

Words of wisdom

From Debut Dagger Competition - for crime but pretty much applicable to all genres.

Practical Matters – Despite our entreaties, there were quite a few entries with un-numbered pages. Please do remember to number them, and also to use double or one-and-half line spacing, as this makes the ms much easier to read. Also, type should be 12 pts or more in size.

Spelling – Obviously, there are some differences between British and American usage. It doesn't matter which you are using, just so long as it's correct! If in doubt, use a dictionary (in preference to Spell Check, which can lead to unintentionally hilarious mistakes).

Grammar – Again, it's important to get it right. Something we particularly noticed was the misuse, or absence, of commas, and quite a lot of confusion over pronouns. It's a good idea to check your work by reading it through. Reading aloud is best, because that way your eyes don't skip over things, and it's especially good for checking dialogue.

The Meanings of Words – Again, if in doubt, consult the dictionary. This will help to avoid mistakes such as the confusion of 'compliment' with 'complement' and so forth.

Location – There were many entries which gave no clue as to where the story was set. There's no need to write screeds of description about the back streets of Croydon or the snow-capped mountains of the Pyrenees, or whatever it is, but it is important that the reader knows where he or she is supposed to be!

Characters – It's not a good idea to introduce too many in the first few pages, as this can be extremely confusing for the reader. If, for some reason, you feel you do need to introduce a lot of people, then make sure that the main characters are brought to the fore, and well delineated – otherwise the effect is of a picture with no perspective..

Subject matter – Don't try and write about something which you think is modish or will appeal to the administrator and judges. Yes, crime fiction goes in fashions, like everything else, but you should write about a subject because it interests YOU, not because you think it will interest someone else (after all, if it doesn't interest you, and you don't write about it with passion, it's not very likely to interest anyone else, is it?)

Note from Laura: for what it's worth, I read a great deal in my capacity as reviewer for the Guardian newspaper, and I personally would like to call time on the following: trafficked women, religious conspiracies, and historical fiction protagonists with anachronistically liberal attitudes... but that's just me.

Note from David: Try not to be too influenced by television crime dramas (eg, Spooks). TV is a different medium, and you don't want your novel to end up reading like a barely-disguised film script.


KAREN said...

Sound advice indeed :o)

Emerging Writer said...

Doncha love the advice on what not to write about!