There’s a buzz from just being in a room packed with crime writers and hearing topics discussed that consume your waking brain (but are of negligible interest to your kids, your running buddy, and pretty much anyone else). Then there are the ideas the discussion sparks. Oh, for the luxury of time to follow all those ideas to their dramatic conclusion and to absorb into my bones the writing advice provided by panelists Jane Cleland, Steve Liskow, and Hallie Ephron.
Here are 10 ideas and tips that struck me at last Saturday’s CrimeCONN at the beautiful Ferguson Library in Stamford, Connecticut. (Yesterday’s Post: Lawyers, Guns, and Money!)
1. Themes and variations. How a case is investigated and handled in court varies across jurisdictions. Envision a clutch of short stories in which similar crimes have very different handling and outcomes.
2. The case of the gentleman prosecutor. When a defendant’s mistress was about to be called to testify, the prosecutor let his wife know she might be happier waiting in the hallway. What other courtesies might a prosecutor extend?
3. Is that your best argument? An appellate lawyer advised, “Put your best argument first,” while people are still listening.
4. If you’re reading crime fiction to assess the state of the market, “don’t go back farther than five years.” There was a lot of nodding and murmured assent to the notion that Agatha Christie couldn’t get published today.
5. Coincidences happen in real life all the time. But in fiction, forget it. At least, “have no more than one,” advised Hallie Ephron, who for a similar reason nixed twins as a plot device. (We won’t mention that Louise Penny based a plot on the Dionne quintuplets.)
6. American English is tightly connected to rhythm, said Steve Liskow, which is why reading a manuscript aloud exposes problems in the language that are invisible on the page. Readers will stumble over the same awkwardnesses you do.
7. No need to write in dialect. In fact, don’t. Mention a character’s accent once and use word choice and the rhythms of subsequent speech to reinforce it.
8. Jane Cleland said great heroes are not afraid to act, though the panelists agreed they have a flaw or failing that must be overcome.
9. Put the important information at the beginning or end of a paragraph. Bury your red herrings in the middle.
10. And keynote speaker Peter Blauner repeated advice from legendary journalist Pete Hamil: “When doing an interview, listen very carefully to the last thing someone says to you.” You’re on your way out the door, your interviewee’s guard is down. This could be the juicy stuff.
See you at CrimeCONN 2020!