ADVISE From The EXPERTS
“With Agatha Christie ingenuity of plot was paramount – no one looked for subtlety of characterization, motivation, good writing. It was rather like a literary card trick. Today we’ve moved closer to the mainstream novel, but nevertheless we need plot.”
“Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it’s a letdown, they won’t buy anymore. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book.”
“If somebody places a gun on the mantle in the first act, it must be fired before the end of the second.”
“There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.”
“Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.”
“Don’t just say it’s raining – make us feel the sodden weight of a wall of water driven by winds at sixty miles an hour.”
The TEN COMMANDMENTS of PLOT DEVICES from 1928
In1928, Father Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (1888 – 1957) priest and crime writer, created a “Ten Commandments” of plot devices that more or less codified the rules of the Fair-play whodunnit. A few of them are vastly outdated now, but still, fun to look over and appreciate in principal:
- The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early on, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.
- All supernatural solutions are ruled out.
- No more than one secret room or passage is allowable, and must be appropriate.
- No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
- No Chinaman must figure in the story. ( A case of unsophisticated anti-racism, given the Yellow Peril figures prevalent in dodgy crime fiction at the time.)
- No accidents or lucky intuition must ever help the detective.
- The detective must not himself commit the crime.
- The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.
- The detective and his sidekick must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind.
- Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been prepared for them.