Kill your darlings

In the lead up to the crime writing workshop that I’m giving this weekend in Castlemaine, I did the following Q&A with Writers Victoria, reproduced here with permission.

Photo: Joanna Sheather

By: Angela Savage interviewed by Nicola Wetzel

For Angela Savage, great crime writing depends on pacing and suspense. WV intern Nicola Wetzel interviewed Angela ahead of her Crime writing workshop in partnership with the Castlemaine State Festival to find out more.

You won the 2004 Victorian Premier’s Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. How has winning this award affected your writing life?

Winning the Victorian Premier’s Award changed everything for me: one of the judges was a senior editor at Text Publishing and she made an offer on the manuscript not long after the awards ceremony. I submitted a seventh draft to the Awards, and it went through another four drafts after I signed with Text. But it was worth it to realise my dream of becoming a published author.

What do you want readers to feel after reading your crime stories?

I want my readers to feel empathy with the characters, transported by the story and dazzled by the writing. This applies no matter what genre I am writing in. When it comes specifically to crime fiction, I hope readers will also reflect on the ideas of justice that I write about.

How do you create your crime characters? Do you base them on people you meet, or through other forms of research?

I try not to base my characters on real people, though I might borrow small details from real life: a look or gesture, a turn of phrase or manner of speech, sometimes an encounter. For example, there’s a scene in my second novel, The Half-Child, where Australian PI Jayne Keeney plays pool with a couple of US Marines in Thailand, which is heavily based on a journal entry I made after playing pool with a group of US Marines in Hanoi in 1996.

How do you keep your readers in suspense?

Ways to heighten tension in crime fiction include: throwing obstacles in your protagonist’s path; putting them in harm’s way; killing off a character; raising doubts about the reliability of a character; and the use of red herrings (distractions) and plot twists. Suspense is also created by showing rather than telling the reader what is happening, leaving it to their imagination to fill in the blanks. Implied violence – or the aftermath of violence – can often be more terrifying than violence described in graphic detail. I’ve used all these techniques and more in my own novels to keep readers in suspense. I’ve also learned to ‘kill your darlings’ to maintain tension and pace.

What are you working on at the moment?

(*Smiles sheepishly and shuffles feet*) My current work in progress is not crime fiction but a literary novel about commercial surrogacy between Australia and Thailand, which I am writing as part of a PhD in Creative Writing. That said, I still find myself drawn to plotting techniques — rising tension, false leads, a climactic ‘big reveal’ — that I associate with crime writing.

About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne writer who has lived and worked extensively in Asia. She won the 2004 Victorian Premier’s Award for Unpublished Manuscript, and the 2011 Scarlet Stiletto Award for short crime fiction. All three of her Jayne Keeney PI novels have been shortlisted for Ned Kelly Awards. Angela teaches creative writing and is currently studying for her PhD in Creative Writing at Monash University.

About Nicola Wetzel

Nicola Wetzel is a Writers Victoria Intern from Heidelberg, Germany. She studies Public Management at Hochschule Kehl and through this internship she wants to gain new experiences in what it’s like to work in a not-for-profit organisation.

About Writers Victoria

Writers Victoria supports and connects all types of writers at all stages of their writing careers. Find out more about our courses and workshops, magazine, mentorships or manuscript assessments, how we can provide inspiration, information or advice, or how to become part of a vibrant literary community as a member of Writers Victoria.

If you’re a writer in Victoria, you need to be part of Writers Victoria. Period.



About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. She won the 2004 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, and the 2011 Scarlet Stiletto Award short story award. Angela holds a PhD in Creative Writing and currently works as Director of Writers Victoria.
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4 Responses to Kill your darlings

  1. Fantastic interview – thanks for sharing. I like the way you discuss suspense. And I’m the same way about creating characters. I don’t base them on real people, except for those small things. I wish you well with the workshop – I’m sure it’ll be excellent.


  2. FictionFan says:

    Yes, indeed, literary novels should have all the same elements of tension and reveal as crime fiction! In fact, (she said, opinionatedly) the best novels are the ones where it’s hard to know whether they’re crime or lit-fic… I cite Bleak House as proof, m’lud! 😉


  3. kathy d says:

    Excellent interview, learned a few things to look for in crime fiction. Have to rethink Jayne Keeney now that I know all of this goes into the stories.
    Good luck with the workshop. By the way, what happened to the Dicks vs. Dames debate?
    Also, I can’t wait to read your novel about surrogacy. I’m sure it will be fascinating, as the subject is so complicated, but you will make it interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. There are some good tips in there… Louise


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