I am super excited to welcome fellow crime fiction author, Tony Knighton to my blog today with his 7 Suggestions for Writing Crime Fiction. Tony is not just a Philadelphia resident like myself, he is a Philadelphia firefighter and a former Marine! (Thank you, Tony, for your service to this great nation and our great city!) I actually read about Tony in my local, neighborhood paper and reached out to him to see if he would do a guest post for me. He graciously agreed. Here's a little more about my guest:
Tony Knighton is...
both an author and a lieutenant in the Philadelphia Fire Department, a thirty year veteran. Born in western Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh, his family moved to Philadelphia when he was seven. With the exceptions of a short stay in Toronto, Ontario, and the military, he’s been in Philadelphia ever since.
He published the novella and story collection Happy Hour and Other Philadelphia Cruelties with Crime Wave Press. His story “The Scavengers” is included in the anthology Shocklines: Fresh Voices in Terror, published by Cemetery Dance, and his story “Sunrise” is included in the anthology Equilibrium Overturned, published by Grey Matter Press. He has also published short fiction in Static Movement Online and Dark Reveries.
In addition to his work as a fireman, he has also worked on the side as a roofer for many years. Knighton served in the United States Marine Corps, and attends classes sporadically at Community College of Philadelphia.
And now . . . Here's Tony:
Seven Suggestions* For Writing Crime Fiction
I want to thank Lisa for graciously inviting me to post my ramblings on her blog.
1. Take Notes.
I find myself worrying about my characters – these people who don’t really exist – often while I am far away from my computer keyboard (a twenty-year old Mac clamshell). If I don’t write down an idea at the moment that I have it, it will be gone. Try this experiment: carry a pad and pencil with you for a week. Write down story ideas as they occur, each on a separate page. Don’t look at them afterward, just put the pad away until you have another thought. At the end of the week, go through your notes. If you’re like me, you’ll have forgotten quite a few.
2. Be flexible.
Plot is essential, but if you are too rigid, your story won’t be as much fun as it could be. Write scenes. See where things go. The stories of mine that I am happiest with are those that started with a premise, or a situation, or a character, instead of those that I outlined from start to finish.
3. Get the details right.
Make it easy for your reader to suspend disbelief. Get as much factual stuff as correct as possible. The details sell the story. One of the reasons that I love the Parker series of books by Richard Stark (pen name of the late, great Donald Westlake) is that Mr. Westlake was interested in things – how they are made, how they work. Anytime Parker had to break into (or out of) somewhere, the construction details – of the wall, or the floor, or the roof that Parker needed to breach – were dead on. The same with guns, cars, alarm systems, places – anything – Westlake nailed the details. If you don’t know about something that you’re trying to write about, it will show. Go see it. Read about it. Or talk to someone who knows. Don’t be shy. People like to talk about themselves and what they do. They might thank you for asking.
4. Let your characters tell the story.
Make ‘em do stuff and say things. Long, expository passages are dull.
5. Cut, cut, cut.
I was going to title this suggestion Re-write, but for me, that essentially means cutting. My first drafts are bad. I weed and prune until they are better. I try for economy – to avoid a three-syllable word if there’s a one-syllable word that works as well, or not to say with ten words what can be said with five. Everything should be pushing the story along. If it isn’t, I cut it.
6. Avoid clichés.
This should be obvious, but writers who know better sometimes resort to lowest-common-denominator stuff – dialogue like this: “It’s way too late for that!” or “You’re out of control!”, scenes like: two tough guys, pointing guns at each other while they say tough guy stuff (more clichés), or characters like these: the detective with a fifth of whiskey in his file cabinet, the aging hippie, the lesbian who drives a Subaru wagon. Don’t do it. Please.
7. Trust your reader.
People who read fiction are smart. Drop your reader into the middle of something. As long as the writing is strong, she’ll hang in there. If a detail is obscure, but the passage well written, your reader will figure it out through context. One of my favorite books is The Friends of Eddie Coyle, by the late, great George V. Higgins (sad – all of these guys – whose work I love – are gone). Writers and reviewers universally rave about the dialogue. I agree, and also think that the strength of the book comes from the trust Mr. Higgins has in his readers. There is no set-up, and nothing is explained. George knew that we’d get it.
That’s all I’ve got. Have fun.
* I love the late, great Elmore Leonard’s “Ten Rules of Writing,” published by the New York Times. Mr. Leonard was a master. It would be presumptive of me to call these any more than suggestions.
A young grifter steals an overcoat. As he discovers forty-thousand dollars in its inside pocket, the coat’s owners come after him. The action never stops as his pursuers seem to be both ahead and behind him at all times, killing and destroying everything in their wake to catch up with their money and the young thief.
Happy Hour is as breathless as writing can be.
Knighton’s debut novella is accompanied by a selection of short stories that can run with the best of American Noir literature. It’s cold out there, folks.
Please check out Happy Hour HERE.
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