Don’t Be Predictable
Hello and thanks for stopping by!
I’ve been busy finalising my stand-alone thriller The Devil You Know and I’m now at that nail-biting stage of awaiting last minute edit issues and final proofs.
To calm my nerves I’ve been reading a lot and attending writing classes and groups and any little snippets that I’ve shared from the book have been well received.
But, in this process of devouring books by the wheelbarrow-full and then meeting new or aspiring writers face to face I’ve been blown away by both the incredible breadth of talent that is out there waiting to be discovered and the utter predictability of much of the popular fiction around.
So, I have written this wee guide to some of the things I, in my humble opinion, think new writer’s should try and avoid. Most of the problems revolve around this problem of being predictable. Of course there are some genres where a cosy predictability is expected and readers feel comfortable with that so let me just say that in general here, I am talking about crime, thriller and mystery genres which are the kinds of books I would normally go for.
The Disposable Female
Don’t start your book with the unfortunate demise of yet another young blonde girl found slashed by the side of the road. Yes it happens in the real world too often, but in fiction it’s sometimes just an easy option. Why not think of something more original or challenging to hook the reader?
Too often recently I’ve found books where there seems to be an excessive zeal for violence towards women. Again that is a sad side of modern life but perhaps we should as writers try and lift our heads a little higher and take a different perspective from time to time. In my third Ridge Walker novel, so far untitled, there will be admittedly more than one dead woman but I usually like to spread the carnage equally between genders and I guarantee you that the unique angle I have taken should more than make up for the body count.
The Bumbling Cop
I don’t write in the mystery genre but I’ve read a few lately and I thought the Miss Marple idea had been done to death a long time ago. With the technological marvels at their disposal nowadays, I doubt if the police could be shown up by your average amateur detectives. Love them or loathe them, don’t make the police appear like idiots because they wouldn’t draw a pay packet for too long if they were.
The Alcoholic Cop
There are many famous cop characters who wouldn’t be the same if they didn’t drink too much. Again the drug angle can provide interest but my point is they have all been done too many times already. Why not have your top cop as a marathon runner or a vegan? It might be unusual but it would also be less predictable. In The Devil You Know, my cop protagonist is a non-drinker. I know… in Scotland.
They say that being a writer kills your enjoyment of reading books.
I’m not sure I’d go that far but when I can guess the ending after less than a third of a ‘mystery’ or ‘crime/suspense’ novel then your plot needs some work done.
Same thing goes for a plot that has so many possibilities for who might be the baddie that it looks like the author just drew a straw on the last page and that was that. It has got to make sense and so the plot has to work no matter how convoluted it may be.
A lovely lady recently said to me, after reading The Piper’s Lament, that she couldn’t imagine keeping all the plot threads in place in her head. She compared my book to an ‘Arran Sweater’ which is a traditional Scottish woollen jumper with lots of threads perpendicular to each other which I took to be a compliment.
To prevent this post getting too long, let me summarise a lot of common faults with new writers by saying STOP using predictable stereotypes. It’s dull, boring and plain lazy. In my Ridge Walker series there are a group of ex-Marines who are all as tough as they come. So far so predictable, right? But they are also gay, they like to wear feather boas and outrageous make-up but as they make their living as mercenaries you’d be a brave soul to call them stereotypes. Unlikely you think? Of course they aren’t, they’re just unusual. Interesting even.
Predictable Language & Imagery
Last one and it’s a stoater. If you’ve ever read Stephen King’s excellent book ‘On Writing‘ then you’ll know all about the writer’s toolbox.
Avoid black as coal or cold as ice and all those similes and metaphors that appear in too many pieces of writing from school homework assignments onwards.
Know the rules then break them but make sure you know you’re doing so. Her lop-sided mouth had the sensuality of roughly torn sandpaper, only more abrasive. You’ll get the idea.
All the best!
Also available in print form here