Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Advice on Crime (writing)

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
2007 winner of the Debut Dagger award, Canadian, Alan Bradley, came up with the idea of making his main protagonist an 11 year old girl with a taste for poisons.

Psst! Want to know a secret, sure-fire way of winning the Debut Dagger Award?
It may not be as difficult as you think.
First of all, come up with an absolute killer concept, and then outline it in a snappy 500 to 1000-word synopsis, which will become part of your entry. Remember that the synopsis is every bit as important as your 3000-word excerpt.
Make your entry stand out from the others. With 1000 or more entries to read, the judges are looking for the ones that leap off the page and grab them by the throats. It sounds painful but it’s true. Difference makes the difference, and I’ve heard by the grapevine that the last thing some judges are looking for is another horribly mutilated corpse.
The opening words are the most important you’ll ever write in your life. Don’t waste them. Your concept is vitally important but the execution of it is crucial.
Make every word, every sentence, every paragraph lead to the next. Polish your work until it sings: read it aloud (or have someone read it to you), check your spelling and check it again. Make sure it’s properly formatted (no funny fonts, no white-out, no hand-written corrections, no food stains, no coloured marker with hearts saying “Pick me!”). These are busy people who are working free of charge, and they’re just looking for a reason to chuck a sloppy manuscript over their shoulder.
Remember that written dialogue is only a simulation real life conversation; it’s a kind of shorthand. Look at the rhythms of written dialogue; make it snap with electricity.
Don’t say things like “I forbid you!” he expostulated” or “Set me free,” she implored.”
Edit, edit, and edit again.
Unless they’re intentional, wipe out clichés. Don’t write, “Isn’t that odd…she thought to herself”. Who else would she think to?
Blood and guts are not the only way to go. There are other fluids and solids that are far more interesting and much less hackneyed.
Use snappy Anglo-Saxon words like “crackled” instead of Latin-derived words like ‘crepitated”.
But when you come right down to it, it’s just 3000 words on a couple of sheets of paper. Make every one of them count.
If you were a Dagger judge, which of these openings would you choose?
A: “It was raining outside.”
B: “How long can I live with an arrow in my eye?”
My point exactly!

Alan won with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Since then the book has gone on to win the Agatha Award, the Dilys Award, the Barry Award, the Arthur Ellis Award and the Macavity Award. It has been translated into 31 languages. It and its sequel (The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag) have been on the bestseller lists in Canada, the US, Germany and Taiwan.


Dave King said...

Excellent, I'm tempted to expostulate!

Emerging Writer said...

Dave, is that legal?

Totalfeckineejit said...

The debut dagger award? Mmm, might have a stab at it.