Monday, February 6, 2012


Writers of murder mysteries - and not all mysteries involve murder, but it's a solid example that lets us get our hand around it - usually need to reveal the culprit at some point. It's better if this revelation makes some kind of sense. So they have to know before the reader who exactly done it? I suspect that the best way to do this is to write the events leading up to the murder, then the murder itself. Then bury it until it's time to show everyone.

Amnesia seems to be the same thing. If a character can't remember something crucial, the author still has to know what it is. So there's a lot of writing you have to do, and then keep mum about.

Just sort of thinking out loud here.


susan said...

I've been a fan of mystery novels ever since I read Sherlock Holmes and all the Agatha Christie books as a teenager. There are always rules of fairness to be followed so that, looking back over the course of the story, the reader should be able to determine that adequate clues were provided for determining the perpetrator. How well this is done is obviously the trick to success. Just for the fun of it I looked up an interview with PD James to see how she approached the challenge. If you don't want to read the whole thing she discusses her methods in the last third.

Ben said...

Something which I may have kind of garbled before. If a mystery is going to be solved, the solution has to complete it rather than just ending it. If something is fascinating just because you don't know the answer, there will be disappointment when you get it. This goes for detective stories, but also any story where there's an enigmatic person or situation.

But that is a great piece by PD James. I love the way she plays around with the EM Forster quote.