Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Recipe for Good Crime Fiction

  1. Start with protagonist. If you start with a main character rather than a plot, it will help you create a character-driven novel. Write or brainstorm a brief character sketch.
  2. Create antagonist. If you have one villain, write or brainstorm a brief character sketch. If there are multiple antagonists, write or brainstorm multiple character sketches.
  3. Add stakes. Answer the following questions on a sheet of paper: What does your protagonist want? What happens if s/he doesn't get it? What does your villain want? What happens if s/he doesn't get it? What do they each have to lose?
  4. Create concept. Write a one or two line prompt that starts the book. This will give you a place to begin. What's the first thing that happens in the book? What gets the ball rolling? Example #1: A father comes home to find his entire family has been kidnapped. Example #2 A P.I. is framed for the murder he was hired to investigate. These are very simple and will become more complex as you write.
  5. Create setting. Where is this all taking place? Is the setting real or imagined? Take time to think about the setting. This will give your book authenticity and you may discover some aspects of the place that you can use in your story.
  6. Mix steps 1-5 and create outline. Now that you have your protagonist, antagonist, concept and setting, you're ready to start shaping your book. If you don't have a good handle on those things yet, try writing a few scenes, just to get a handle on the voice of your story. Some people work better at outlining first, others write their way into it. But having an idea of where your going will create a tight plot without a lot of "throat clearing".
  7. Write, write, write!
  8. Raise stakes throughout. In a good book, characters change. Therefore, their motivations will too. With each turning point, you must raise the stakes for your characters. This will heighten tension and keep readers intrigued.
  9. Add a dash of tension on every page. Elmore Leonard said it best, "I don't write the parts that people skip." It doesn't have to be, edge-of-your-seat-character-could-die-at-any-moment tension. That would be too much. But adding some sort of tension, whether it be internal or external, is necessary to keep the book moving forward.
  10. Sprinkle clues throughout. Give readers just enough to keep them guessing, but not enough that they get it right.
  11. Turn up the heat. As you near the end of your book, the pacing should pick up a bit. Don't give readers a chance to put the book down.
  12. Create a strong finish. A good ending is one that readers don't predict beforehand, but, in hindsight, realize the answer has been in front of them the whole time. Avoid cliches, don't pull a rabbit out of the hat, but don't go for the obvious either. When you're finished, if it's too predictable or too out there, go back to step 10.
  13. Set aside and let cool.
  14. Reread and revise until perfect. Don't be naive and think that your first draft is perfect. After you've set the book aside for a while, you'll hopefully come back with enough perspective to give the book any necessary tweaking.
  15. Test. Your book, like new recipes, should be tried out on the people closest to you before sending it out. Let trusted friends and family read the book and give you feedback before querying agents. They'll be able to see many things that your eyes missed.

1 comment:

Picks By Pat said...

Excellent post. I may print this off and tape it on my office wall. It's like a good outline that you refer to every time you get stuck in your book.

Great seeing you at LIM. The panels were top notch.