Saturday, January 20, 2007

Feedback and Research

I took the challenge before Christmas and submitted a 250 word hook to Miss Snark, ready for her to tear my words to shreds. Amazingly, I got to Stage 2, submitting the first 750 words of my novel.
While she was accepting children's and YA novels, I went for broke and sent adult crime. I read a huge amount of crime fiction, and have always been in awe of the plotting skills of crime writers. I wrote one crime novel about 10 years ago but it wasn't very good and I realised it in time to avoid lots of postage costs and rejection letters.
So why am I writing a crime novel? For fun. Because I had a great idea for the story about three years ago that just would not let go. And for the challenge - the plotting challenge. It's all there but does it work? Do I give the solution away too soon? Do the main character's personal demons intrude on the crime/mystery element too much? Who knows? Only critical readers can tell me, and I'm not up to that yet. More rewriting to do.
Anyway, did Miss Snark like my 750 words? Kind of. She said too much of it was setup, but the characterisation was good. And I did receive a huge number of comments on the Comments trail. Enough people liked it to make me think I was doing OK.
We all know that doesn't mean it will eventually be publishable! But it helps.
What I did learn was how to edit and cut more ruthlessly. When you only have 750 words in which to get the story moving, show character, and hopefully get to a point where the reader will say 'I want more' ... that means cutting out backstory, explanations and info dumps, tightening dialogue and making every word count. Even doing this for the first two pages is a great lesson in how it can be done for the whole book.
Kristin Nelson's blog this week has a great post on points to watch out for in genre fiction - things that are taking your story nowhere, such as characters sitting around talking about what happened.
It's here at
What am I reading right now? I whizzed through another old Patricia Cornwell - I was re-reading them in order of publication, and I'm over it now.
So off to the library, and I came home with, among other things, a couple of true crime books - Australian true crime focusing on Melbourne gangland and undercover cops. I need to read these a bit at a time. They're somewhat overpowering otherwise. No wonder I love fiction so much - real crime that's happening around me, even if I don't directly experience it, is scary. Try one of these books and you'll see what I mean (the Underbelly series by two Age journalists is a good starting point).
On the other side of research, I have to thank the two ambulance officers (paramedics) who were having a quiet coffee break in Borders the other day and barely flinched when I approached them and asked if I could get some information from them. They gave me on-the-spot info about what happens when they attend a scene when someone has been stabbed and bashed (my character), what their procedures are, etc. It's called 'primary source' material, but it's important to get this stuff right. Thanks!
Now all I need is a detective in our police force for the next bit of research.

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