Hazel McHaffie

police procedure

Thrillers – lessons learned

OK, with a pile of thrillers of various kinds now read and analysed, I’m a bit closer to refining my own choices for the current novel. What have I decided so far?

Main narrative thread
The issue must be one I personally care about. And I need to be clear who I’m trying to appeal to. A tale of individuals seeking personal justice or dealing with their own family dramas holds my interest more than stories about money laundering or righting organisational wrongs.

Main protagonist(s)
The lead doesn’t have to be likeable but the reader must care about his/her fate so the character needs to be carefully drawn and handled, with a plausible and intriguing backstory.
His/her motivation must be worthy so readers will root for him/her.
He/she must be up against tremendous odds.

Secondary characters
Too many tangential stories and secondary characters run the risk of losing narrative tension and interest. (Or am I a wimp when it comes to holding umpteen names and storylines in my head?)

Style
Short sentences and staccato prose can help build tension but lose impact if used too often. Sentence structure, length and complexity need to be varied.
Grammatically incomplete sentences also need to be used with caution; they can hold up the pace of a story.

Action
The psychology of the characters must be authentic and plausible. (See writers like Jonathan Kellerman who’s a psychologist himself and uses a psychologist to help solve crimes, or Linda Fairstein who was a prosecutor focusing on crimes of violence against women and children and really understands police procedure.)

Accuracy
If the story includes historical reality or geographical locations, the facts must be spot on accurate.

So, with that foundation, I’m now concentrating on fleshing out the profiles of my own characters.

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Checking, authenticating, correcting

As you know, my current novel is out for review and expert critique. And as comments come in I’m revising the text. With confidence.

I’m not a great fan of books which rely heavily on local dialect and idioms – they can be jolly hard work. But a touch of linguistic colour here and there, used judiciously, can be a happy substitute for wordy description. So, I’m indebted to my expert in Scots for the correct use of words like ‘wursel’ and ‘baws’ and ‘faither’, and the knowledge that kids from an area of multiple deprivation wouldn’t say their mother had ‘scarpered’, she’d have ‘skidaddled’.

scarper Brit. sl. run away, escape [prob. f. It, scappare escape, infl. by rhyming sl. Scapa Flow = go]

An Irish friend tells me that ‘slutty’, ‘ponsy’ and ‘poxy’ aren’t authentic currency even amongst the coarser element of the emerald isle – although I confess I’m too craven to use some of the more startling alternatives.

My contact in the police force has given me invaluable insights into the work of Family Liaison Officers and the protocol at the scene of a car crash, saving me from a significant faux pas.

All tremendously helpful advice, and in my judgement, a very necessary part of the editorial process.

It grieves me when I spend good money on  a book that hasn’t even nodded in the direction of a sound edit. I don’t want to embarrass a well-intentioned novice so I won’t name and shame the author of a particularly bad example I read this month, but one does wonder what possesses some publishers to send out real garbage, whilst others pass over masterly writing. Seems like a cross between whim and lottery. And there seems to be a growing trend towards fads and ‘copy-cat’ publishing of mediocre or downright substandard books, rather than supporting originality and exciting trend-setting.

We Need to Talk about Kevin-book-coverDid you know that Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin was rejected by 30 publishers! If you’re in the mood for a bit of light relief click here for some of the misguided and rather rude comments made to 30 other authors whose work then went on to be acclaimed and lauded. Yesss!! As Frank Sinatra once said: The best revenge is massive success. Indeedy.

The Casual Vacancy

Published by Little Brown & Co

Am I being too precious? What are your thoughts on the quality of what you read? Do you look for authenticity and accuracy? That’s the question queen of blogging Dovegreyreader asks in her review of JK Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy. A health care professional herself, she was shocked by the implausibility of certain sections of the story. As a writer I suspect my own personal approach borders on the obsessive, but do you, the readers, really care?

 

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