Hi everyone. I'm in the middle of writing my first Detective/Crime Novel. I'm up to just under 26,000 words. Does anyone have any useful hints or tips on putting your first novel together?

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Gavin,  That's a very broad question.  So much so that you could, and many people have, written books on it.  Is there something in particular that you need assistance with?

Very true, haha. Two things bugging me about it are how long it should be and can you have too many characters? I've checked out the first part and the suggestion is 100,000 words but I'm interested to hear what yourself and other writers advise.

Further to Dana's advice, an often overlooked way to help your readers keep your characters straight is to ensure they don't have names that sound the same, and/or start with the same letter.

The names are quite different so that's a relief. 

The length depends somewhat on the sub-genre. Thriller readers will tolerate a book that can be used as a doorstop when finished. Most crime fiction fans are looking for something in the 70,000 - 90,000 word range.

Yes, you can have too many characters, though even that is subject to definition. Are you counting the barista who delivers a pithy comment with the coffee, never to be seen--or heard from--again? The rule of thumb is there should be no more characters than the reader can keep straight without having to focus too closely on it. This may not be a huge problem, as it's often possible to combine two or more characters into one. I write a police procedural series based in a small town with about 40 cops, of which the reader nevers hears from more than a half dozen, if that.

That's some great advice. Thanks Dana.

Spider, Spin Me a Web by Lawrence Block is a good book for writing tips. As is Stephen King's On Writing.

Thank you.

I can't speak to books on writing since I came across them too late and they did nothing for me. I rely on reading, reading, reading in my genre. I look at specific ways some authors handle things admirably. I also do the research.

Otherwise, Dana's advice is correct as to length and characters.

I've had to do some myself so that figures.

I agree. I like 70 to 75,000 words. Seems to work for me and financially it's workable too. Everyone's right--not too many main characters. Never mind the reader, you'll confuse yourself.  How many though? Depends on what genre you're in and what you're trying to do. For me it would be the series lead, his sidekick, a cop (his in with the authorities), a romance partner, a sprinkling of bad guys, some sympathetic victims for the protagonist to be drawn into the plot and to assist. These are major characters. Of course there are minors of varying importance. That's just something that works for me in what I'm doing now. Might not work for others or even me in the future.

Also seeing it is your first book, I would suggest finding your all-time favorite dozen or so books written in your genre and read them in your spare time as you're working on your novel. I know people say that's not a good idea while you're working, but I disagree when working on a first novel. If nothing else the inspiration can keep you excited and continuing. Also, with these reads you'll be absorbing the books as a writer and not a reader. PIck the author's work apart, try to see how she did it, and steal anything you can. I don't mean plagiarism. I mean how they did what they did. You'll be surprised at how much you can learn. Personally I stay away from modern authors for inspiration. Although many of them are fantastically talented they are sometimes writing to the market and that won't help you much. They're good at that and it's a different beast than what you're trying to do your first time out. Try the authors from 30 years or more ago. Many times there was little dough involved, so they could write what they wanted. There you'll see masters that weren't always hamstrung by economic considerations and could let it flow. Funny, now that I think of it, once some of them made it, their stuff was never as good. 

Good Luck.


Thanks Jed. A lot of food for thought there. In terms of the characters. I think those basis are covered so I'm heading in the right direction.


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