For all those who read yesterday’s blog post and have since created an almost-perfect crime thriller, here are the remaining tips on how to turn your manuscript into a masterpiece. Barney Thompson – who attended both Curtis Brown Creative’s novel-writing course and the Crime Writing Weekend with Orion publishing director Bill Massey, agent Gordon Wise, and authors Meg Gardiner and Steve Mosby (pictured with the group, above) – shares his notes on how to write villains, create dialogue and, most importantly, which pitfalls to avoid.
HOW TO CREATE A GREAT VILLAIN
(1) Your villains are the heroes of their own story. They must believe in what they are doing – or have a brilliant reason to do so (this could be ideology, fanaticism, psychopathic tendencies, a desire for revenge, etc).
(2) Many great villains are essentially monsters that cannot see the world straight, but don’t forget that monsters can be charming, sexy, witty, charismatic and full of energy.
(3) Make sure you give your villain a chink in their armour, too.
HOW TO WRITE CRIME-NOVEL DIALOGUE
(1) Don’t use dialogue as a record of conversation – strip out all the chitchat and back-and-forth of real life. Make your characters’ speech as tense as everything else.
(2) People confess and reveal, but they also lie, misdirect, misunderstand or fail to speak their unconscious desires.
(3) Remember that your characters have different scripts with different stories and information.
HOW TO CREATE TENSION
(1) Needle the reader with anxious uncertainty. Inflict tension on them. Writers are troublemakers, so don’t let readers off the hook.
(2) Put your characters in real danger, but with a ray of hope.
(3) Don’t put your characters in danger that can be avoided – ie, don’t make them go into the woods without a torch and a gun if they have them. Otherwise they just come across as stupid.
(4) Create a ‘clock’ for the reader. This could be anything from a ticking time bomb to a deadline before a hostage is executed, etc.
(5) Create danger for subsidiary characters – people who need rescuing, for example.
HOW NOT TO WRITE CRIME FICTION
(1) Don’t frontload your book with information you think is crucial. Let it leak out gradually.
(2) Avoid using dreams.
(3) Don’t use flashbacks as an easy way of infodumping.
(4) Don’t use dialogue as a record of conversations – take out all the chitchat and keep it as tense and unexpected as everything else.
(5) Avoid the cliché of making your characters celebrities, rock stars or prostitutes.
AND ONE FINAL TIP:
Keep a record of what the reader knows chapter by chapter – so you have a cumulative plot to go with your scene-by-scene plan and overarching plot.
As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our novel-writing courses offer dedicated modules on submitting your novel to literary agents – and include sessions on writing a synopsis and preparing a covering letter. Click for more information or to apply for our creative writing courses.