BULLET POINTS is a series of tips for aspiring crime writers direct from published Crime Vault authors. There will always be five of them and they will always be short and snappy, so if you find yourself staring in frustration at the blank page in front of you, we hope they provide the inspiration for you to start writing…
Here, in the third of the series, we ask Susanna Gregory, British crime novelist and creator of the hugely popular medieval Matthew Bartholomew series, to share her writerly secrets.
1. There’s no such thing as writers’ block. Have a cup of tea, a bit of fresh air, then return to the keyboard and get something – anything – down on the page. It might be rubbish, but it will move you on to a point where the prose will flow more freely. You can always go back later to rewrite the bits you don’t like. The main point is just keep going.
2. Keith Miles (alias Edward Marston) once gave me a very valuable piece of information: the skill is not in putting a lot of historical or technical detail in a book, but in leaving it out. Learn to know what is important and what moves the plot forward, and dispense with the rest, no matter how interesting or exciting it might seem.
3. Read as much as you can about your era or field. Research is something that’s constantly ongoing, and there’s always something new to learn. It counts as part of the writing process, so never think of it as a waste of time.
4. Walk the streets – learn as much as you can about your location (and if it’s fictional, draw yourself a really good map). Get the feel of the place at different times of day. Think about the time of year as well – what trees are in leaf, which flowers are out, what phase is the Moon in, how cold is it, what does the place smell like, what can you hear as you walk along? These details can make the place seem more real to a reader.
5. Enjoy writing – do it for yourself, not a potential publisher. The chances are that if you enjoy what you write, others will enjoy what you read. Relax, find your own style, and have fun with it.
Susanna Gregory, Summer 2013