Crime writing tips: Some lessons I learnt from Jane Harper at the Sydney Writers Festival

Ah, the Sydney Writers Festival. That place of baby boomers and a strange distrust of genre fiction in the program. That place where I actually got told off in a session for live-tweeting by the person sitting next to me. Yes. Live-tweeting at a writers festival? Who knew that was a thing? Not this lady #stillbitter. What a strange relationship I have with it.

Still, I was grateful to my friend, Lisa Fleetwood, for taking me along to a session with crime novelist, Jane Harper. Myself, Lisa and Robin got to listen for an hour to Jane’s writing process and experiences and I really did learn quite a bit. Enough so, that I went and bought her debut, The Dry, immediately afterwards. We even got a sneaky pic too.

Jane Harper
Photo curtesy of Robin Elizabeth

Things I learnt from Jane Harper: A summary for aspiring writers

1. How to write great suspense? Focus on your plot, a great opening hook and how you start and end your chapters.

2. It’s OK for the first draft to be a skeleton effort. The Dry was 40 000 words and in published form it’s 90 000. Just get your idea down on paper.

3. Writing courses are helpful for meeting like people and getting motivated to finish something. Consider trying one out. (Inkashlings note: I have on more than one occasion and they have definitely moved my work ahead of the game faster and I wouldn’t have finished my first manuscript without one).

4. When writing crime, it isn’t the crime itself that’s what keeps readers interested. It’s the ripple effect that crime has on people and their relationships with each other. Remember this.

5. People in the modern world have short attention spans. Imagine your story is an online newspaper article and your reader is someone who reads a lot online. Make sure your story is pacy enough, with strong, suspenseful ends to chapters, to keep the reader keeping on reading.

Jane is not the first person to give this advice, but it was a great session well worth sharing. Hope this helps someone out there!

About InkAshlings

Maureen, Australian, young aspiring writer.
This entry was posted in Author Interview, Genre: Crime, Writing Tips and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Crime writing tips: Some lessons I learnt from Jane Harper at the Sydney Writers Festival

  1. Robin says:

    I loved her short first draft idea. Get the bones down and then add in those red herrings and details. She actually was the first person who I have heard this from. Everyone else seemed to say overstuff and then strip. Slap down the skeleton is so much closer to my process so I LOVED this.

    • InkAshlings says:

      Yes, it’s closer to mine too! My crime novel was under 70k at first draft and by the end of this re-write it should be closer to 85-90k.

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