I returned to creative writing in 2013, initially with short stories, novellas, poetry and song lyrics. I wrote my first novel in 2014, a crime novel and tried querying almost 200 agents and publishers with it before realising it was double the length it should be for a debut novel by an unknown author. D’oh!
Undeterred, (I’m stubborn!), I wrote a prequel of the correct length, followed by three more stories, running into tricky problems in maintaining continuity through a series.
I came across a dilemma of saying the same thing again, which reminded me of a technique that one of my favourite crime writers Ed McBain used.
He’s credited as a pioneer of police procedural novels, and his 87th Precinct stories use exactly the same descriptions of his cast of detectives. Protagonist Steve Carella is always introduced as:
‘He was a big man, but not a heavy one. He gave the impression of great power, but the power was not a meaty one. It was, instead, a fine-honed muscular power.’
These brief hints at the looks and nature of his cast of characters are carried across from one book to another. They become a welcome way of refamiliarising oneself with who’s who, the thumbnail sketch a mantra.
In my series, the Cornish landscape is as much a character as my heroes and villains, and rightly so as it’s a mystical and dangerous place, with plenty of legends and natural hazards. Scores of holidaymakers are injured or killed here every year. Faced with a way of saying this again, I decided to repeat myself:
‘Cornwall could be a dangerous place, and it was usually visitors to the county who were caught out by being too relaxed in its deadly beauty. Holidaymakers tumbled off cliffs and into old mine workings or drowned in rivers and at sea.’
I also repeated myself in introducing one of the characters, a forensic pathologist called CC:
‘She was unmarried but enjoyed plenty of suitors over the years. With no children to distract her she was melded with her career—though an aged Grey Parrot kept her on the straight and narrow. The bird’s language was as colourful as CC’s own, and the pathologist’s screech of laughter reminded him of her avian companion.’
I don’t see this as laziness, and I see no point in rewriting a description just for the sake of being unique. As I found, when reading Ed McBain as a teenager, readers may well like the sense of familiarity the repetition creates.
Do any of you do this?