One of the trickiest things about editing is being decisive about pacing. Rather unfairly, this is particularly the case in crime fiction as the genre lives and dies on its pacing. It's hard to describe because when you're writing something, you'll naturally hold a degree of affection toward it. That's just the nature of the beast. Writing is personal. Even this blog post will, to some degree, be innately personal in that respect.
So you'll find editing tough, and this is why you should always get second eyes on things. If efficient, you'll be able to imbue enough information through subtext - at least concerning the peripheral characters you may not be able to spend too much time on. Below is one of countless passages cut from earlier edits. To give a little background; The excerpt was meant to portray a more direct link to Jane's troubled marriage, but also opportunity to revisit (through flashbacks) the moment where Mainard's career began to careen. One of the central themes of the story is the repetition of characters making the wrong choices when it matters.
Not to spoil things for anybody who hasn't read, but the end product neatly checked these boxes down the line. But there was another justification for cutting this. The thought process being that in Mainard learning from previous mistakes (and not helping his brother), you're giving this character salvation and undercutting his character arc at only the halfway point. Naturally, other cut chapters followed this but I'm trying to concise here. For the purpose of education, I've made zero amendments to the excerpt, and it reads exactly as it appeared in the draft with even the mistakes. Hopefully, this will show any budding writer's that there's a clear leap in quality draft to draft, (also a great opportunity to make fun of me in the comments) and the first draft doesn't have to be perfect. Anyway, enjoy.
And remember. If you're writing crime - Pacing!
The Sunday calendar had changed of late, shifted by the recent hostilities. A point exemplified by this Sunday’s lunch. Jane used to host these. The happily married hosts. Over the years, they had grown in importance, becoming something of a tradition. Even when Mainard was swimming the deep waters of a very public scandal, those Sunday catch ups were something of a safe space. Since the squabbles, the tradition had died off. At first it was the odd cancellation, then once a fortnight, before growing so sparse they had resignedly accepted them a thing of the past. It wasn’t immediately apparent why of course, but the excuse of a headache here or overtime there only lasted so long when your brother-in-law was also your colleague.
The decision of Mainard’s parents to revive the tradition had only drawn their attentions to the obviousness of Neil’s troubled marriage.
When both Neil and Jane failed to show, it was nobody’s surprise. In fact, that made it easier. If either had done, things would just be even more awkward. Maianrd pictured it now. Six at a table. Six, not including and the giant elephant in the room. An evening of fake smiles and pretence.
No thank you.
‘All okay at work love?’ There was that circumspection in his mother’s voice. One look telling him. She’d read the articles of David Budge.
In the living room, Mainards father flicked the channels, uncaring for chit chat.
‘And Jane. She okay?’ It was a gentle probe.
‘She’s fine. Listen, I don’t know if you’ve been reading, but don’t take any notice of David Budge. The blokes got it in for me. Has done since last year.’
She screwed up her nose. ‘Awful man. Absolutely horrible…’
‘I can handle it.’ He declared, but he wasn’t so sure. Budge had come at him, blood and thunder this time. Questioned not just his integrity, but his very competence in finding Carly.
She pressed her lips, anguished. ‘I’ve already read it love. And its bloody ridiculous. I mean, there must be channels you can take to stop him.’
‘I don’t know. But this is surely interfering with police business?’
Mainard went to her, wrapping his arm around her, feeling her bony framework. A reminder of how she’d grown thinner in age. ‘Don’t be silly now mam. It’ll take a lot more than one pest throwing sticks and stones to worry me. Okay.’ He kissed her on the head.
They sat down to dinner at four o’clock, a little awkward with the table only half filled. He grandkids were at Jane’s parents for the afternoon while she had spent the afternoon celebrating a friend’s hen. It was just after desert his phone rang. It was Turk.
When Mainard took it, it was immediately obvious he was frantic. ‘Guv.’
‘You alright mate?’
‘Not really guv.’ Mainard detected the inaudible chatter and the sounds of sports in the background. The team had gone on a night out. Jane too to blow of some steam.
‘I’m in The Rake and Spade. I think you’d better get down here.’ Turk was half slurring. But the urgency in his voice palpable.
‘What’s going on.’
‘It’s your brother mate.’ Mainard’s heart stopped. He wasn’t sure why, but he was fearing the worst. Was it the fact Neil had been so off that day that made him suddenly fearful? ‘He’s here in cuffs.’
‘He just clouted Shaun!’
‘Shaun? As in our Shaun?’
‘Good and proper guv. They’ve chucked him in the van now!’
Suddenly Mainard felt his world closing in again. A sickening de-ja-vu hitting him. He knew why Turk was calling. To give him the heads up. The chance to pull some strings and get Neil off the hook. With it, a nauseating history repeating himself. Just like that night. And those terrible decisions rattling around in his mind. Take him home.
That was the day. The day his very honour as a police detective had been squeezed from him. And now, like with Budge, it was happening again. Only this time, he wouldn’t let it sucker him in. This time, he’d play smart.
‘Jesus. Shaun okay?’
‘He’s fine guv. He’s taken Jane home.’
‘Okay Turk, calm down, just tell me where they’re taking him.’
After he hung up, he felt the vibrations in his veins. The cold indecision playing torture with him that he had one option here. He had to leave this play. Leave Neil to sleep it off first. If he’d broken any laws, then there was no choice but to steer clear of intervening. ‘The station. You want me to have a chat?’
And what? Let him loose because he’s a DCI’s brother?
Mainard closed his eyes, remembering the last part. The part nobody knew about. How he’d watched Collins ushered away like some drunken pest. A shell of his usual self. It was by the sleight of hand. Blink and you’d miss it. Just what he’d pickpocketed from Collins that day. An ounce of Coke. All it took to destroy a thirty-year career. A fucking ounce. His thoughts pinballing as he took it, flushed it away.
An ounce. The difference, minute. Like the margins between Yes and No. Or dignity and disgrace.