Rewriting Your Story In A Different Genre

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.

Mystery of the Month – The Wife and the Widow

What if the person you thought you knew better than anyone turned out to be a stranger? This terrifying concept is explored by Christian White in his latest psychological thriller The Wife and the Widow, the follow-up novel to his bestseller, The Nowhere Child.

Kate Keddie is at the airport with her 10-year-old daughter Mia. They’re eagerly awaiting the return of husband and father, John, who has spent the past two weeks at a work colloquium in London. But John never gets off the plane. As it happens, he never went to London and has been lying to Kate about his whereabouts. As Kate takes it upon herself to uncover the details of her husband’s secrets, her search leads her to Belport, a sleepy island town where they own a holiday home. It’s not long before Kate receives some devastating news – a body has been found and they think it’s John.

Abby Gilpin lives in Belport with her two teenaged children and her husband, Ray. They spend their days working hard to make ends meet – Ray as an island caretaker and Abby at the local supermarket. Belport is a bustling holiday town in the summer, but nothing much happens in the winter. Until now. One day, when Abby is out for a jog, she notices police at the beach. Someone has been murdered. Abby remembers finding Ray’s work clothes and boots in the rubbish and then she makes a shocking discovery in their garage. Could Ray be linked to the murder? Does she really knows her husband at all?

While these two women are independently investigating the secret lives of their husbands; how they ultimately connect will have you engrossed in the story, leading to the significant ‘a-ha’ moment where everything suddenly makes sense, before speeding towards a dramatic conclusion. The easy writing style and cliffhanger chapter endings will keep you reading well into the night – everyone I know who has read this book has finished it within a matter of days, if not hours, myself included. Familiar tropes of the isolated island setting, communities where everyone knows everyone, small town gossip, secrets and people who aren’t all they appear to be, are masterfully reshaped into a fresh and exciting story. In a genre where it’s becoming increasingly difficult for writers to think of original and creative twists, The Wife and the Widow has a real doozy that will leave you reeling.

I had the pleasure of meeting Christian White and listening to him speak about crime fiction writing at a recent event at Avid Reader in Brisbane. As a screenwriter, he has an excellent understanding of storytelling and how to create suspense, and he is also a very friendly person who is happy to share his wisdom and time with fellow writers and readers.

The Wife and the Widow by Christian White is published by Affirm Press.

Standout Simile:

‘John wouldn’t do that,’ Fisher said, but his words were like a backdrop in a Hollywood studio, held together by balsawood and coated in cheap paint.

Why You Need An Editor To Read Your Manuscript

After an unsuccessful one-on-one with a publisher at a recent literary conference, I decided to engage a professional editor to read my manuscript (a cosy-crime). Although I’ve previously had helpful feedback from mentors about sections of my novel, what I really wanted was to get a professional opinion on the entire manuscript. I found a great editor easily through the Freelance Editor’s Network. I read through each editor’s bio, and chose an editor that worked with books in the same/similar genre to my manuscript.

Editors offer a range of different services including structural and developmental edits, copywriting and proofreading. I chose to receive an editorial assessment comprising of an approximately 10-page report on my entire manuscript. The report took into consideration the plot, genre, structure, narrative and characters, and finished with some miscellaneous thoughts about consistency and plot holes. The feedback in this report has made me see my manuscript in a new light and now that I know how much it can be improved and reworked, I’m glad I decided to engage an editor before submitting to any more agents, publishers or competitions.

The editorial assessment has done two things. Firstly, it has confirmed that certain things I suspected needed work, do in fact need work, such as:

  • Those opening chapters! Previous feedback regarding my opening chapters was that they felt too rushed. It starts right in the action, but the reader doesn’t get to know the main character, or their motivations well enough first, and it’s confusing. There needs to be more information for the reader to be able to orientate themselves in the world of the story before getting into too much of the action.
  • Characters. I used to think the weakest part of my writing was scene setting, and while this is still an area that could use some work, the main thing I struggle with is demonstrating to the reader the motivations of my main characters.

Secondly, the editorial assessment has drawn my attention to things I didn’t realise needed work, such as:

  • More exploration of the psychological elements of the murder mystery plot, including the motive of the murderer. This will also assist in making the story a bit darker, which is something I’ve discussed wanting to do in an earlier blog post.
  • A greater sense of time moving to create more tension. Despite mapping out all of the dates and times of each scene, this isn’t clear to the reader.
  • Subplots that aren’t pulling their weight. I’ve got lots of subplots and some of them haven’t been explored enough to engage and maintain the reader’s interest.

As an unpublished writer, after my experience engaging a professional editor to read my manuscript, I would absolutely recommend this to any new writers looking to improve their writing skills and learn more about the craft. Yes, it’s an expensive exercise but it’s absolutely worth the money if you can afford it. The feedback I received is another step towards my ultimate goal, which is to make my manuscript the best possible manuscript it can be. I knew it wasn’t there yet and needed more work. The editorial assessment has shown me there is still a lot of work to do before I will feel confident to submit it again to agents and publishers.

Have you ever sought professional advice on your writing? Please let me know in the comments below.

Mystery of the Month – Meet Me At Lennon’s

Melanie Myers transports the reader back to wartime Brisbane with her award-winning debut novel Meet Me At Lennon’s. In the early 1940s, thousands of American soldiers descended upon Brisbane and their presence was felt by all – they were glamorous, better paid and skilled at charming Australian women. Meet Me At Lennon’s explores the huge impact of this social disruption through the lives of several female characters. While there is a mystery surrounding a woman murdered on the banks of the Brisbane River in 1943, this isn’t a whodunit but a story about the experiences of these women and their connection to the ‘River Girl’.

Dual narratives cleverly connect and intersect, often unexpectedly, as the story moves between the 1940s, the 1990s and today. The contemporary narrative sees Olivia Wells struggling to complete her thesis on forgotten writer, Gloria Grantham, when she chances upon Clio Manning, a woman who may have the answers she needs. In the forties we meet Alice who receives lots of tips as a maid at the exclusive Brisbane hotel, Lennon’s. Her roommate, Val, who works at the munitions factory, loves to spend her evenings dancing and plans to elope with a US submariner. June’s husband is at war while she encounters a mysterious American stranger, while her sister Edith is expecting a proposal from ‘Frank the Yank’. Back in the present day, Olivia is managing the men in her own life – a lousy boyfriend and her absent father who suddenly wants to reconnect.

The reader must be astute and pay close attention to these timeline shifts because little details are hidden in the story, revealed in whispers. This is a book that needs to be read slowly, every line relished and absorbed. I enjoyed the way the author invented and incorporated theatre reviews, old letters and interview transcripts – we feel like we are Olivia, slowly piecing together a picture of life in 1940s wartime Brisbane. Like her main character, Melanie Myers spent time at Queensland State Archives trawling through articles about reports on sex offences committed by US soldiers to inform the context of the story, which is so well-researched and eloquently described that every scene feels like stepping through a window into the past.

Brisbane naturally features very heavily in the story – the present day vista of South Bank and its buildings – the State Library, Queensland Museum, and the Wheel of Brisbane; as well as familiar buildings that have stood the test of time – City Hall, McWhirters, and the Paddington Antique Centre, and those now long gone – Lennon’s Hotel on George Street, and the Carver Club, which once stood on Grey Street in South Brisbane, built for African American servicemen who were not permitted to cross the Brisbane River. A simmering animosity between the Australian and American soldiers culminates in the novel when one of the female characters witnesses a riot in the Brisbane CBD in November 1942, an actual event which came to be known as the Battle of Brisbane, resulting in one death and hundreds of injuries.

But it’s female experiences at the heart of this story, which holds a mirror up to the lives of women in wartime Brisbane and asks, how much has changed and how much remains the same? Sexual violence and victim blaming are hot topics and this is a novel that seeks to give these victims of sexual violence a voice, particularly those forgotten by history, and by novel’s end has given the River Girl a name. A thought-provoking read that will stay with you long after you’ve read the final page.

Meet Me At Lennon’s by Melanie Myers is published by UQP.

Standout Simile:

She pressed the pointed end of it into her palm, wishing it hurt more, and hoping it would quell the relentless nausea that was roiling up again like sediment in a rain-swollen river.

Crime Fiction Tropes in the #MeToo Era

Ah, the beginning of September. One of my favourite times of the year because it means two things. Number one – winter is over. And number two – the Brisbane Writers Festival. This year, I attended a session called “Crime Fiction and #metoo” featuring a panel of women – poet and writer Meera Atkinson, professor, doctor and writer Caroline de Costa and writer M.J. Tjia (who also writes as Mirandi Riwoe), moderated by writer and academic, Meg Vann. The topic for discussion was whether crime fiction perpetuates a culture of violence against women because of certain tropes the genre typically uses. Can we therefore still morally read and write crime fiction?

Meg Vann referred to one particular trope as ‘fridging’, which comes from the Women in Refrigerators website developed by comic book writer, Gail Simone. The concept originated from the Green Lantern comic when the character Alexandra DeWitt (girlfriend of the main character, Kyle Rayner) was murdered and her body stowed inside a refrigerator. The meaning of ‘fridging’ has now widened to encompass violence against women as a plot device to motivate the (usually male) protagonist into action. It is a cliched type of storytelling with negative connotations because it’s seen as devaluing the life of that female character i.e. they are more plot device than person. An article on Vox states that tropes like these distort reality and our view of women: “They don’t exist in a vacuum, but in a context where they both reflect and perpetuate the idea that women don’t have any agency over their own lives in the real world.”

Calling out this trope has been a step forward in changing the way stories represent women. The negative connotations of tropes like ‘fridging’ or the ‘dead girl’ trope combined with the #metoo climate has crime fiction writers thinking twice when writing about violence against women.

Sarah Bailey, author of three bestselling novels featuring Detective Gemma Woodstock, wrote an article on Women’s Agenda about the challenge of writing crime fiction in the immediate aftermath of the #metoo movement. She found herself questioning how she depicted Gemma’s experience of sexual harassment, and whether she had a special responsibility as a writer to “present a certain kind of story” – one with an empowered ending, even though this wouldn’t necessarily ring true for the character she had created. And at a recent Meet the Author session with Melanie Myers, author of Meet Me At Lennon’s, she stated she purposefully tried to do something different with the ‘dead girl’ trope by making a statement about violence against women in the 1940s by comparing it to the present day and asking – has anything changed and what are we doing about it?

The Staunch Prize was created by author and screenwriter Bridget Lawless to encourage writers to come up with stories that don’t rely on sexual violence, awarding the prize “to the author of a novel in the thriller genre in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered”. Sophie Hannah, poet and novelist, argues in an article in The Guardian that while its admirable that the prize wants to take a stand against violence against women, it’s not violence on the receiving end of that stand, but readers and writers. Instead she suggests a prize for the work “that most powerfully or sensitively tackles the problem of violence against women and girls.”

Certainly there are writers who have published books that utilise these tropes without being exploitative and gratuitous. In my opinion one of the best is An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire. This novel focuses on the impact of a woman’s murder on her sister, and on community reactions to her death, as well as exploring the media’s obsession with ‘pretty dead girls’.

So, what did the panel of women at the Brisbane Writers Festival say when asked: “Can we still morally read and write crime fiction?” The answer: “Yes, but it’s tricky.” The takeaway message was that writers should create crime fiction that doesn’t use traditional tropes and that gives female characters a strong voice. Caroline de Costa stated that recent crime fiction features women as the solution and not as stereotypes. She believes that entertainment can bring messages of social justice. M.J. Tjia, whose Heloise Chancey mystery series features two strong female main characters, asked people to refocus on what they’re reading, and ask – who wrote it? Where did it come from? What is its truth?

As crime writers, or fans of reading the genre, should we feel like we are committing a moral crime for reading and writing about violence against women? I’m certainly no expert and I don’t have the answers. In fact, the more I research the subject, the more complex it becomes. My current work in progress uses the ‘dead girl’ trope. I only hope I can write it in such a way that it doesn’t perpetuate negative stereotypes. What are your thoughts on using these tropes in crime fiction? Please let me know in the comments below.

Meg Vann, Caroline de Costa, Meera Atkinson and M.J. Tjia discuss women in crime fiction.

Mystery of the Month – The Day The Lies Began

Foster siblings Abbi and Blake are very close – they have a seemingly unbreakable bond. But now they share a secret. A secret so terrible that it threatens to tear apart not only their relationship, but the lives of those dearest to them.

Something happens on the day of the Moon Festival – a special event in the seaside community of Lagos Point – something unthinkable and unspeakable. Abbi begs Blake to help her protect her family – husband Will, a doctor, and their five-year-old daughter, Eadie. She knows Blake, a local police officer, would do anything for her. Meanwhile, Blake’s girlfriend Hannah, a schoolteacher, becomes suspicious about the amount of time Abbi and Blake are spending together – whispering and exchanging secretive glances – and she determines to find out what they’re up to.

The Day The Lies Began is Kylie Kaden’s third novel and her first foray into domestic noir. The story has all the elements that fans of the genre have come to expect – dirty secrets galore, complicated relationships, an innocuous setting turned dangerous, and as Kylie states herself, ‘good people doing bad things’. There’s also plenty of original ideas to keep things fresh and exciting, including one unexpected plot twist which leads the story down quite a dark path.

Kylie is a gifted storyteller, cleverly complicating the plot just when the reader thinks they’ve worked out what’s going on. The four main characters make questionable decisions, with the two female characters being particularly deceitful, and the interplay between them is often tense and volatile. The story hinges on this mix of relationships, the one between Abbi and Blake being the most complicated – they have a long history and a bond that wobbles on the line of platonic. The author also cleverly weaves in the storyline of seventeen-year-old Molly – while you suspect she’s somehow embroiled in the secrets being kept by the adult characters, it remains a mystery until the dramatic reveal at the end. There’s also a connection that develops between Molly and an older, female character which offers some softer moments to balance the grittier themes. The very final scene makes for a slick twist.

The Day The Lies Began is a highly suspenseful, twisty and unsettling read that will leave you questioning your own morals and ethics, and wondering whether or not justice has been correctly served. If this book is a sign of things to come, then I look forward to Kylie’s next domestic noir thriller.

The Day the Lies Began by Kylie Kaden is published by Pantera Press.

Standout Simile:

Only time would tell if somehow, someone would trip over her lies, like land mines laid early and forgotten, and rip her family to shreds.

Am I Writing A Book That Won’t Sell?

I’ve written a cosy mystery. I started writing it around the time I read an article in The Guardian that said the cosy mystery was undergoing a renaissance. I liked the idea of writing a story that was a puzzle to be solved. A game for the reader, rather than a gritty police procedural, and with a sleuth who was an average person who could solve a crime.

I’ve always enjoyed reading cosy mysteries – golden age mysteries from Agatha Christie or Victoria Holt, and modern cosies such as the Aurora Teagarden series by Charlaine Harris, and the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich.

Unfortunately, the feedback I’ve had from some publishers and editors since I finished my manuscript is that the cosy mystery is not popular (unless you’re already an established author in the genre). An Australian publisher with two cosy mystery authors on their books told me that the print runs are small. Naturally, with two cosy mystery authors (and these are really good authors) on their books, they wouldn’t be looking to take on any more.

Crime fiction, however, of which cosy mystery is a sub-genre, is immensely popular and sells better than many other genres. I don’t know why people wouldn’t want to purchase or read a cosy mystery being that it is a sub-genre of crime fiction, but it appears that readers are more interested in books that are darker. Are cosy mysteries too whimsical, perhaps?

If I’ve written a book that publishers aren’t interested in because they don’t think it will sell, what can I do? Here are some of the options I could consider.

  • Keep writing cosy mysteries purely for my own personal satisfaction. However, as someone who writes stories, I would like to be able to share my stories with others (i.e. have someone read them and hopefully enjoy them!)
  • Self-publish. This would mean taking on the publication costs myself, and the likelihood that I would recoup the costs is minimal. However, lots of talented authors are self-publishing these days.
  • Give up. I wouldn’t be the first writer who has toyed with the idea of giving up when it all gets too hard.
  • Turf this manuscript and write another book in a different genre. I’ve started thinking about my next book, which is more of a thriller with a historical crime element. I briefly pitched the idea to a publisher, who said it might be something they’d be interested in (rather than the cosy mystery).
  • Rewrite the manuscript completely. I’ve engaged a professional editor who may be able to offer me a few suggestions on how to rewrite my cosy mystery into a thriller. I’ve read some really good thrillers of late, in particular by Heidi Perks and Nicola Moriarty. I enjoyed those books and would enjoy writing a book like that. If nothing else, rewriting my cosy mystery as a thriller would be a great learning exercise.

Would you buy a cosy mystery or would you be more interested in reading a thriller? Perhaps another genre entirely? Please let me know in the comments below.