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How to Write Crime Fiction - Part Seven: Tips for Better Writing

by Kelvin Jones

Using Maps and Sketches for Better Writing

Sketches of key locations and interiors are a safeguard against mistakes and sometimes suggest plot developments. When you write that Fred escaped through the bathroom window at the rear of the manor house and ran to the village without meeting a soul, your reader might recall that Mrs Greenfinger's vegetable garden adjoined the path he took, and that Mr Snoop was prone to lurk by her hedge in the hope of glimpsing her frisky niece. A sketch map would remind you that Fred must detour to escape unseen.

How to Write Crime Fiction - Part Seven: Tips for Better Writing

Calmer scenes present pitfalls, too. When Mrs Scribbler settles down to write a letter, her desk had better be in the same room as the last time she used it or a lot of puzzled readers are going to wonder why. Mistakes of this nature aren't peculiar to the novice: a celebrated author of detective stories moved an important piece of furniture from one room to another without mention of removals men. But with a few sketches pinned to your wall and a Record at your elbow, you can skirt trouble.

Know your Facts when Writing Historical Crime

In recent decades, there has been something of an avalanche of historical crime fiction. Perhaps the most memorable of these is the late Ellis Peters' Cadfael novels, which depict a twelfth century monk and ex-soldier of the Holy Lands who has turned to growing herbs and solving crime in the Benedictine Abbey at Shrewsbury. The Cadfael novels are among the best of this genre and are essentially whodunits set against a meticulously researched historical background. The Victorian age is also much loved by historical crime writers and one of the best proponents of this tradition is Peter Lovesey, who invented the Victorian detective, Sergeant Cribb. The novice writer should be warned that for this type of novel to succeed, it must not only tell a first rate story but the historical facts must be accurate in every detail! My own Sherlock Holmes pastiches are rooted in historical detail of the 1880s but are much more graphic than the original Conan Doyle stories.

Examples: Ellis Peters: The Potter's Field

Peter Lovesey: The Detective Wore Silk Drawers

Kelvin I Jones: Sherlock Holmes & The Plagues of London

Start Writing the Book

All the preparatory work has been done, and the synopsis is ready. The time has arrived to get down to the business of writing the book. As a physical task, it is demanding. A great deal of effort is required to produce a typescript of 60,000 words or more, no matter what mechanical aid is to hand. A blank page with nothing but `Page 1, Chapter 1' at the top is a daunting sight, and the sheer number of words waiting to be written can seem depressing. Such thoughts have to be put aside and a start made.

Tips to Developing a Good Writing Style

The basis of good writing is knowledge of language. All craftsmen have tools, and need to learn how to use them and how to keep them in good condition.

Language is the writer's tool. To use it, you must have a grounding in syntax and punctuation, and a wide vocabulary. Keeping the tool in good condition is a matter of practice in using words to convey your ideas, learning by trial and error what is readable and what is not, and the ruthless application of cutting.

Every writer develops their own style, suitable to the sort of book they write. Essentially, this has to be a personal style of writing, not a copy of someone else's style. Write as the words come naturally to you.

Try to develop a simple, clear style: keep sentences short; and never use a long word where a short one will do.

The Need to Cut out Scenes

All fledgling writers are so happy to find that they have the ability to string words together that they wallow in it. The result is a terrifying prolixity. The first thing is to learn how to cut, to shape the prose so that the words form a pattern that is a pleasure to read. Good writing is pared to the bone and polished so that exactly the right word is used.

Better Writing and Repetition of Words

The too-frequent use of a word makes prose boring. A well-worn but still useful tip is not to use a word more than once in any five lines. Obviously, this does not refer to the ands and buts, nor to the parts of verbs which form the structure of a sentence, but to nouns, adjectives, and descriptive verbs. For example: There was nothing we could do. The entrance was blocked. No way in, and, for us, no way out, until the entrance was cleared.

The repetition of the word `entrance' jars. There is no good reason why the word should be used twice. `Gateway', `passage' or `exit' would fit in equally well, and would not disturb the flow of the prose.

However, repetition of a word or phrase can be used to create dramatic effect. For example: `It was a pretty little lane, with a pretty little house at the end of it, which should have been full of pretty little people.'

Here the repetition is used deliberately to build up to a climax, almost certainly nasty, with something in the house which is distinctly neither pretty nor little.

Keep in Mind the Following while Writing

  1. The "engine" of your story needs to be turned on as close to the beginning as possible. The "engine" is the point at which a story involves the reader, the place at which the reader -can't stop reading.
  2. Keep the action visible on stage as much as you can.
  3. Don't mark time; move the story relentlessly.
  4. Is your hero or heroine actively doing something rather than being done to?
  5. Substitute concrete detail for abstractions and generalizations.
  6. Use surprise such as an unexpected obstacle to create suspense.
  7. In dialogue, change perfectly formed sentences.
  8. Break up long speeches.
  9. Make exchanges of dialogue provocative, argumentative, combative.
  10. Characterize through speech. Give different characters different speech patterns.
  11. Have something visual on every page.
  12. Don't tell us how your characters feel. Let the reader draw his conclusions from what each character says or does.
  13. Don't resolve problems too quickly. It kills suspense.
  14. Are you working on the emotions of the reader?
  15. Are the obstacles facing the protagonist getting tougher as the story progresses?
  16. Have you put your characters under stress?
  17. Is their dialogue more revealing under stress?
  18. Are you sticking to a consistent point of view?

See the rest of Kelvin’s Blog post on how to write crime fiction here.

Kelvin Jones

Kelvin I. Jones has been a prolific UK crime and supernatural fantasy writer for over a quarter of a century. Born in Kent in 1948, he is equally at home writing poetry, plays and novels. He has published six books about Sherlock Holmes and the only definitive study of Conan Doyle’s interest in spiritualism, as well as numerous articles about the Victorian detective (see R De Waal's Universal Sherlock Holmes, online edition, 2000). Ed Hoch, the renowned American crime writer, has said of his Sherlockian work: “Kelvin I Jones reveals a sensibility and knowledge of 19th Century literature that extends far beyond the world of Sherlock Holmes.' He is the author of the Stone Dead series, featuring the intrepid Cornish detective, John Bottrell, and the Inspector Ketch stories, which are set in Norfolk.

Recent publications: Sherlock Holmes: The Plagues of London, Sherlock Holmes: The Baskerville Papers, A Dogged Detective (DCI Ketch), A Grave For The Goddess (John Bottrell).

www.cunningcrimebooks.co.uk

Kelvin Jones has a new book coming out called Headbanger, an Inspector Ketch Murder Mystery

A controversial, graphic and often disturbing account of how Sherlock Holmes, the archetypal detective, discovered the identity of Jack The Ripper, the killer who stalked Whitechapel in 1888. Based on newly discovered journals of his intimate friend, Doctor Watson, confidential Scotland Yard files, plus the intimate and revealing diaries of Dr Watson's second wife, the novel shows a view of Victorian London which peels away the layers of respectability and reveals society just as violent, exploitative and prurient as our own.

Books

The Norwich Murders

Kelvin Jones

£7.32

There's a serial killer stalking the streets of Norwich and it's the job of DCI Price (known to his colleagues as 'Ketch,' }to unmask him. Although there's not much in the way of forensic evidence, Ketch believes that killer is a religious maniac. Plagued by alcoholism and melancholia. Ketch struggles to keep pace as the killer's body count slowly rises. A fast paced and atmospheric crime thriller set against the backdrop of an ancient city.

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The Janus

Kelvin Jones

£8.32

At a Romano-British hill fort in Kent a strange Celtic stone head is found. The ancient artefact soon has a terrifying effect on whoever it comes into contact with since it is the stone talisman of a Celtic warrior whose speciality was the severing of his opponents' heads in battle. The Janus also has the power to project terrifying dreams into the minds of the living. An atmospheric contemporary horror tale by the author of Twelve After Midnight and Carter's Occult Casebook. 'Then, at length, he would turn out the light and leave the room, his mind full of plans and stratagems. And behind him, in the darkness of the vault, the Janus would know that soon now it would rise like a phoenix from the ashes, bringing the dead back into the daylight, demanding the Blood Sacrifice...'

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A Grave For The Goddess

Kelvin Jones

£7.07

Norfolk based detective John Bottrell and his partner had been looking forward to a relaxing holiday with old friends in the quiet Cornish village of Saint Maddern. But when the vicar of Saint Maddern is found murdered in the church, there are few clues as to the identity of her assailant, much to the frustration of Bottrell and his ex colleague DCI Ray Sexton. As midsummer day approaches and the local pagans prepare for their 'Day of Harmonic Convergence,' more murders follow, and Bottrell is convinced that there are dark forces abroad in the community. A Cornish murder mystery with an occult twist from the author of Stone Dead and Witch Jar.

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Conan Doyle And The Spirits: The Spiritualist Career of Arthur Conan Doyle

Kelvin Jones

£8.56

An exhaustive and definitive study of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's career as a psychic investigator by Sherlock Holmes biographer Kelvin I. Jones.The author has been a prolific writer for a quarter of a century. He has published six books about Sherlock Holmes, as well as numerous articles about the Victorian detective. Ed Hoch, the renowned American crime writer, has said of his Sherlockian work: "Kelvin I Jones reveals a sensibility and knowledge of 19th Century literature that extends far beyond the world of Sherlock Holmes."

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The Complete Inspector Ketch: The Casebook Files Of A Norwich Detective

Kelvin Jones

£11.60

The complete edition of crime stories, featuring the lugubrious, alcoholic and long in the tooth East Anglian detective, DCI Ketch.The novel and sixteen short stories in this volume feature a dogged Norwich detective, 'Ketch', so named after his ancestor, Jack Ketch the hangman. Ketch (real name Huw Price) is an alcoholic, nearing retirement in the force. Seventeen atmospheric tales of murder and mayhem, set in and around the towns and villages of Norfolk, involving blackmail, revenge, lust and obsession. By the author of the Stone Dead Omnibus.

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Carter's Occult Casebook

Kelvin Jones

£7.94

A collection of full length ghost and horror stories featuring the Edwardian psychic sleuth Dr John Carter. In the tradition of the English writer M. R. James.

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Traditions And Hearthside Stories Of West Cornwall: Tales Of An Old Celt

Kelvin Jones

£10.96

William Bottrell, the most famous of all Cornish storytellers, once described himself as "an old Celt". This seems appropriate when one looks at his prolific output of "drolls", published privately between 1870 and 1880 for the benefit of the middle class readership of Penzance. The tales he collected came from the lips of the miners and the local people. A new edition of the Cornish folklore classic, with an introduction by Kelvin Jones

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Sherlock Holmes: The Plagues Of London

Kelvin Jones

£8.07

It is December 1888. The body of Queen Victoria's physician is discovered in a railway carriage on Paddington Station. Sherlock summons his brother Mycroft to the scene. Sherlock is convinced the crime bears no resemblance to the Ripper murders but when a letter arrives at Scotland Yard, ostensibly from the Ripper, claiming he is the author of the crime, Lestrade doubts Sherlock's wisdom. When the body of Sir James Fawcett, a leading expert on tropical diseases, is found at his home in Chelsea the day after, Sherlock realises that a challenging criminal mind is at work. This Sherlock Holmes novel, which follows the author's own chronology of the cases of Holmes, introduces readers to a number of real life Victorian celebrities, including Oscar Wilde. By the author of 'Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective.'

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Sherlock Holmes And The Cromer Hound: An Investigation

Kelvin Jones

£7.07

A fascinating investigation into the literary origins of Conan Doyle's horror classic. Kelvin Jones traces the story from its East Anglian roots to its final emergence as a West Country thriller. The story's geography, mythical dimension and folkloric allusions are also examined in depth. A must for Holmes fans.

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Witch Jar

Kelvin Jones

£7.73

When ex-metropolitan police detective and psychic John Bottrell returns to Cornwall to recuperate, having inherited a cottage from his mother-in-law on the remote Lizard peninsula of West Cornwall, he little realises that his analytical abilities will be tested to the full. On the very day of his arrival in the village of St Sampson, Bottrell's car collides with that of local incomer Melanie Pearson, with whom he strikes up an immediate rapport. When Melanie's daughter, Isobel, is found hanging from a tree in the mysterious Hob's Wood, her death is at first thought to be another suicide. But when Bottrell meets Ian Glenister, a former Metropolitan police colleague, assigned to investigate Isobel's death, he learns that foul play is suspected in the deaths of two other teenagers. Bottrell, a melancholy alcoholic, stalks the wild Cornish landscape in this psychological thriller which combines elements of the occult, new age overtones and traditional crime narrative. Witch Jar is the second in the series of novels featuring John Bottrell.

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Stone Dead

Kelvin Jones

£7.39

Ex-Met detective John Bottrell travels to Cornwall to escape the memory of his wife's tragic death but he little realises that he will soon be embroiled in a web of murder, witchcraft and the occult. When the naked body of a young woman is found on a footpath suspicion falls on her boyfriend. However, after Bottrell has applied his analytical skills to the activities of the local pagan community he is forced to revise his opinion. A dark tale of intrigue and obsession from the wilds of West Cornwall.

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Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective

Kelvin Jones

£10.14

A definitive and fascinating biography of the great detective. The book draws on the work of many Holmes scholars and provides an illuminating picture of Victorian crime and scandal. The definitive account of Holmes' illustrious life by an English Sherlockian.

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Flowers Of Evil

Kelvin Jones

£8.35

It's the long hot summer of 1976. Young D.C. John Bottrell arrives in Bristol to begin work on the Somerset and Avon's Special Investigations Unit under the watchful eye of his former colleague, DCI Ian Glenister. Bottrell is soon introduced to the unit's first case. The remains of a woman have been found in a disused ice house in the garden of a Redland mansion, the only clue to her identity being the expensive French mackintosh which she was wearing. Bottrell, a young detective with a passion for criminology, who also possesses psychic abilities, is tested to the limit in a case which involves passion, guile and obsession. An intriguing and puzzling murder mystery by the author of Stone Dead and Witch Jar.

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Death Of A Cunning Man

Kelvin Jones

£7.08

When the Reverend Lewis Trenchard takes a year's sabbatical from his post as Norfolk's Adviser In Spiritual Affairs, he little suspects that he will soon be immersed in a multiple murder mystery. Yet within days of his arrival it becomes obvious that the remote village of Thorsford in North Norfolk harbours a deadly murderer. The first victim, the wheelwright's daughter, is discovered by chance in a shallow grave on Thorsford Hill. When Trenchard's old colleague, Professor Charles Whitaker, embarks on a quest to unearth the ancient hill figures which for centuries have lain beneath the hill,Trenchard becomes convinced that human motives can be ascribed to all of the murders. But is there a link with the pagan past? And what is the meaning of the mysterious esoteric society of "The Horseman's Word"? A supernatural crime novel in the tradition of 'The Wicker Man.'

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Cornish Witchcraft

Kelvin Jones

£9.81

A thorough history of the craft, lore and lives of Cornish witches. Immensely researched, this is quite possibly the last word on the subject.

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Twelve After Midnight: Twelve Stories Of Terror And The Supernatural

Kelvin Jones

£12.81

A collection of 12 contemporary tales of horror and the supernatural by Kelvin Jones. The author's work and style in this genre has been compared to that of the legendary English ghost story writer, M R James by both Francis King, the novelist, and Ramsey Campbell, the renowned British fantasy writer. Often rooted in Celtic folklore, this diverse collection ranges from the perverse to the fantastic. Vintage horror from the writer of Carter's Occult Casebook.

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A Cromer Corpse

Kelvin Jones

£7.68

Melancholic ex cop John Bottrell is looking forward to a peaceful retirement when a man's body is fished out of the sea at Cromer, a pentagram carved into his groin. It's a ritual killing, which is more in Bottrell's line than the local police, so he's co-opted back to Norfolk to solve the case. Then there's another murder, this time a 13 year old girl - also with the mark of a pentagram. In a fast paced narrative, the reader is drawn into a web of modern paganism where nobody is quite who they seem to be but everyone has a motive for murder. Kelvin Jones recreates the essential eeriness of East Anglia during a heatwave and melds crime and horror, leading us into a world of magic, mystery and murder.

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The Criminological Sherlock Holmes

Kelvin Jones

£7.00

An A-Z guide to the forensics and criminological detail of the Sherlock Holmes stories. Provides a fascinating insight into the world of Victorian crime and methods of detection and includes a reprint of Holmes' monograph on the tracing footprints.

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Akenstone

Kelvin Jones

£10.45

Ben held the stone up to the window. It had a curious glint to it, a depth and solidity unlike any common pebble taken from the beach. The grey wether had been given to Ben by his grandfather. When Ben and his archaeologist father visit the Kentish village of Akenstone, neither realises the magical significance of the stone. But Akenstone is a village of ancient stones, ghosts and long hidden secrets. And Ben soon discovers that he alone must find the key to unlock the power of the stones. A thrilling fantasy novel by the author of Odin's Eye.

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