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The top five things I have learned about crime fiction from working in TV – by Claire Evans

Claire Evans is author of The Fourteenth Letter, a crime novel set in London 1881, that begins withthe scandal of a bride murdered at her engagement party. Read on for the lessons Claire learnt about writing from working on the small screen.  


The Middle truly is as important as the beginning and the end…..

If anything, in TV drama, the middle is more important than either. A series can run from just a handful of episodes to over a hundred – that’s a whole lot of middle. The journey is what will keep people hooked.


…. but know where you’re going.

Some of the best TV series (Lost, The Sopranos, The Wire) confounded some of their fans in the way they ended. But if you don’t have the ending firmly in mind at the start, the chances of disappointing the audience are probably way higher I think. That said, maybe it’s inevitable that the destination can never live up to the five-or-more year journey we undertake with these characters.


The Episodic structure is a great discipline for fiction too.

Episodes have beginnings, middles and endings in their own right. It really helped me in writing The Fourteenth Letter, particularly in plotting out the middle – the ‘pudding’ as someone once called it (ie a shapeless blob with no differentiation). Seeing your book as a series of sequences that have their own mini narratives also helps to vary the pace and hit different notes, rather than a straight acceleration towards the finish line.


Character is everything.

Bland, sketchy characters are brutally exposed on TV and Film because the audience don’t expect to fill in the blanks. That all starts with the writing. You need to know what your protagonist eats for breakfast, how good they are at maths, whether they’re a cat person or a dog person. That depth of detail, which can seem irrelevant in a novel, fills out the frame in TV. Besides, chances are, the actors are going to ask you.


Psychopaths are everywhere.

From Soho to Hollywood. Just saying.


Claire Evans is an established business specialist in the UK television industry. After finishing her law degree, she qualified as an accountant, but realising her mistake quickly ran away to work at the National Theatre before finally landing a job at the BBC. Once there, she rose through the ranks to head up operations and business affairs across the TV commissioning teams. In drama, she led the BBC’s commercial relationships with the Independent production sector and a wide range of international co-producers and distributors.
She left the BBC in 2013 to pursue her writing career. Since then she has advised a number of drama and film production companies, most recently working on The Honourable Woman and Doctor Foster. She is also now the Chief Operating Officer at Two Brothers Pictures Ltd, the company set up by Harry and Jack Williams, the creators of The Missing.

The Fourteenth Letter by Claire Evans is out in hardback now from Sphere. 

With the Virago/The Pool New Crime Writer Award, we want to discover an exciting new female writer for the Virago list who is writing a suspenseful, intelligent, original crime or thriller novel. Find out more, and how to enter here.