I am delighted to welcome to my blog crime writer Catriona King, whose twelfth novel, The Keeper (of which more below) has just been published. Today Catriona shares with us her thoughts on how to write detective fiction.
Thanks for inviting me onto your blog. When I was thinking of a topic for this piece I thought back to what would have interested me three years ago, when I was writing my first Craig detective novel, ‘A Limited Justice’ and decided that I would have loved someone to have told me…
How to Write a Detective Novel. (NB. This isn’t a definitive guide, just some vague ideas from one novelist. No-one can actually tell you how to write; each writer has to find their own style.)
So…back in 2012 I just knew that I wanted to write a crime fiction novel. Crime was what I read and watched on television, and it was what always caught my eye in the daily news, so it seemed natural that it was the genre I should choose. I can’t imagine writing one hundred thousand words about a subject that didn’t really interest me.
I start writing each book with just a vague idea for a story, often coming from something that I’ve seen or heard in daily life. I’ve never had an organised approach, with time lines plotted and detailed character bios, just a vague idea that’s rattling around in my head. Although many writers do take an organised approach, just as many simply sit down with a blank piece of paper and a cup of tea as I did in 2012 and still do now in 2015, having just released the twelfth novel featuring Marc Craig and his team, ‘The Keeper.’
What type of crime novel?
When writing in any genre, it’s important to know what type of novel you want to write. In crime fiction that could be anything from deciding on a past, present or future setting for your novel; choosing to write cosy or brutal, forensically or psychologically focused crime. Will your lead character be male or female? A private investigator, a police officer, a pathologist, or even, in the case of Kathy Reichs’ excellent books, a forensic anthropologist?
I chose to set my books in the present day with a male police officer lead, and I chose to write murder novels because of the myriad of story options that they afford. While I didn’t want to write cosy crime, I did make a conscious decision not to dwell too much on the gory side of death, as I wanted to write books that I wouldn’t mind having to read myself. There are plenty of exciting plot twists you can write without having to cover your characters in blood!
Having decided who leads your investigation the next decision becomes do they work alone or in a team? Either can be effective, but I think for good dialogue it’s useful for your lead character to have someone to bounce ideas off.
A word about dialogue.
As important as it is to have a story with twists and turns, a book that is simply dense passages of prose heavy with jargon or description can become tiresome for the reader and they may give up halfway through. Dialogue between characters, revealing some detail about their lives, need not detract from the core story in any way, and can, in fact, help hold the readers’ interest. If it allows humour to be introduced into dark subject matter such as crime and murder, then surely it’s a win-win?
Having outlined the characters in my head, I like to see how they develop during the book and am often surprised at the storylines that emerge as I write. Obviously the more bizarre ideas are weeded out during editing but many others make it into the finished work.
While it’s essential to check the detail of what you write: geographic, forensic and procedural, try to avoid writing too technically. While readers often like to learn new facts, you’re not writing an investigative handbook; you’re creating a fictional world and hopefully writing a thrilling story that will carry the reader along.
So now you have your characters and you know how they will speak to each other, and you have an idea of your story. Hopefully, with a lot of time and effort, you’ll be able to produce a first draft. But that is only the beginning; the second draft is when you really shape your book. Rewriting the passages that almost worked, and ruthlessly deleting others that were simply padding and don’t add to your story or help the plot. You’ll read the dialogue passages out loud to see how good or ridiculous they sound, and tweak them again and again until they sound right. You’ll check the details that you didn’t know and spell and grammar check the draft until you’re completely fed up, and then, when all of that is done, you should send your draft to a good editor and two beta readers who you can trust to be honest.
When your editor and beta readers come back telling you everything that is wrong with your book, you definitely shouldn’t get demoralised and give up. You’ll simply start on draft number three and tighten your story again, until it’s ready to submit to an agent or publisher (who will ask you to redraft it a fourth, fifth and sixth time). Then, finally, you’ll have completed your first crime novel.
Catriona King trained as a doctor and a police forensic medical examiner in London, where she worked for many years. She worked closely with the Metropolitan Police on several occasions. In recent years, she has returned to live in Belfast.
She has written since childhood; fiction, fact and reporting.
‘The Keeper’ is the twelfth novel about detective Marc Craig and his team.
A new Craig novel is in edits for release in 2016.
After three men are shot dead in Belfast, Marc Craig’s team is tasked to investigate. But are the murders the work of a random killer or a legacy of Northern Ireland’s past?
When pathologist John Winter finds that the bullets were unmarked, it becomes clear the killings are the work of someone highly organised. Investigation points the team to a significant Belfast location; but will they get there in time to prevent another death?
Meanwhile, two of the Murder Squad’s members experience life changing events, and Craig’s failure to deal with a personal issue almost costs him his career.
The Keeper. Never Forget The Victims.’
Catriona’s books are available in paperback and ebook on Amazon worldwide http://authl.it/4hd
Read about Catriona’s books on http://www.catrionakingbooks.com/
Interact with Catriona about her books on Catriona_books@yahoo.co.uk
Catriona is on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/CatrionaKingWriter/?ref=bookmarks