A fresh approach to crime fiction

Contracts and Contractions

When Penmore Press wanted to see the whole of No Accident, everything changed.

Everything had to change. The novel was too long and had too many subplots. Kent still hadn’t found a way to solve the murder, but I’d written an ending anyway. Somehow I would find a way to make it all flow seamlessly.

I went back to Penmore. I wasn’t prepared to send the whole novel until I was happy it was the best work I could produce. I muted six months to revise and thought they’d lose interest, but to my surprise a contract arrived by email the next day. This was not what I expected. It showed commitment on their part and I had nowhere to hide now. I had to produce the best work I’d ever produced and hope it was good enough. I didn’t sign the contract because I didn’t want to build up my hopes for them to be dashed later. I wanted Penmore to read the finished version and then see if they were still prepared to offer me a contract.

The editing and rewriting began in earnest. I’ve revised and rewritten before, improving sentences and paragraphs, but this was different. I needed to improve not only the writing, but the story. There were so many plot holes to fix. The first draft was way too long. It rambled and meandered. Some of the characters weren’t up to scratch. I needed a second, shorter draft.

But before I started writing, I needed to do some reading.

Breakout Novel

 

 

My favourite book on the craft of writing is by Donald Maass. Writing the Breakout Novel is full of great tips and advice and works best when you’ve got a first draft to improve. I bought the book in 2001, enjoyed it, but never really considered the advice it offered. This time, as I read, I saw how I could improve No Accident.

 

 

 

Brimming with ideas and enough notes to paper a bedroom, I started to rewrite. It hurt to cut out a major subplot, but it removed almost four chapters, probably more across the whole story. It also meant one less problem for Kent to deal with, which heightened the importance of the ones that remained. I changed the names of a couple of characters. It might not sound like much, but those name changes suggested different characteristics. When Jenny became Gemma, she came to life in a way I hadn’t imagined. I could see her in my mind, fully formed and opinionated for the first time. Kent had a friend, Mike, who was a Scenes of Crime Officer, and a second who ran a mobile catering van. I merged them into one character. Mike became an ex-SOCO who retired early, bought an old ambulance and converted it into a burger bar, called Mike’s Mighty Munch. The name came to me a second after the idea.

These contractions hurt with words falling away with every chapter. Then, as I approached the three-quarters point, I saw how Kent would solve the murder. All the clues were there. With the additional words and subplots stripped away, the clues became more obvious. Invigorated, I finished the rewrite in late June 2015. No Accident had shrunk from 150,000 words to 113,000. Exhausted, but happy, I emailed the revised version to Penmore. For five weeks I waited, resisting the temptation to email for news.

They still wanted to publish No Accident, but there was more editing needed to polish the book. There was a lot of repetition and still some slack in the writing. A friend of mine also pointed out a tendency I had to preach when it came to public health matters like sugar intake, obesity and smoking.

These faults began to leap off the page in a way I’d never known before. I was starting to enjoy editing. I could see the novel improve with each day. By the end of October 2015, I’d polished it down to 91,000 words. In December, after clarifying a number of details, I signed the contract.

Suddenly everything became real. My first novel was going to be published. I was now on a journey into the unknown. Everything had changed.

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