I’ve spent quite a few years writing, rewriting, editing and finally finishing my first manuscript, a cosy mystery. But after receiving some professional advice that The Princess Murders might work better as a psychological thriller, I’ve had to make a decision. Keep the story the way it is, as a cosy mystery, or rework it as a thriller. And now, after a lot of thinking, some procrastinating, a few wines, and some more thinking, I’ve decided to give it a go.
How does one rework a story into a different genre? I wouldn’t have a clue. While there are loads of courses about how to write a novel, there aren’t so many courses about how to edit, rewrite or restructure your novel after you’ve written it. Luckily, a cosy mystery and a psychological thriller both fall under the umbrella of crime fiction, which minimises some of the trickiness. I imagine it would be far more difficult to rewrite a horror story into a traditional romance, for example.
Here’s how it’s been so far. It’s like I put an explosive device underneath my manuscript and pressed a button to blow it up. Then all the pieces – plot points, characters, and setting descriptions – broke up and exploded into the air. I waited for them to settle before I sifted through the remains, trying to determine what I could salvage out of the rubble. The opening scenes? Burnt to a crisp. A subplot and its associated characters are lost forever. But from the ashes has risen a character who was mentioned in name only, and who will now play a bigger role.
Then comes the process of trying to put the story back together – like a jigsaw but with loads of missing pieces. Some pieces no longer fit because the edges have broken off, so I need to think of new plot points to join the scenes that have survived the explosion. The missing pieces will be replaced with new scenes that explore the psychological motivations of the main characters, and introduce some small town secrets. Eventually I’ll have a whole new ‘big picture’.
Some changes are obvious. The main character is no longer an amateur sleuth returning to her hometown to investigate someone as part of her private investigation business. That’s very much a cosy mystery set-up. This means her motivations have completely changed; she needs a different reason to return to her hometown – and it needs to be a strong hook. And whereas the main character in a cosy mystery is essentially a good person, in a psychological thriller the intentions of the main character are more ambiguous. While they still need to be ordinary and relatable, they usually have an inner conflict they need to overcome and perhaps a dark secret, so the reader isn’t sure what they are hiding. In this way, I feel like I’m getting to know my main character all over again!
When you’re building or rebuilding anything, it’s always useful to have a blueprint, or some kind of guide. I’ve found my original outline and have been amending it as I go. It’s been challenging because I’ve grown so accustomed to the order of the events being as they are (in the cosy mystery) and changing them has left me feeling like my head is swimming.
It’s hard work and sometimes it feels like it might take forever. But with the end goal being a stronger story, it will be worth the effort.