Rules for detective stories, cont.

A while back, Bibliophile (Another 52 Books) posted about Van Dine’s rules, created in 1929, for writing detective stories. My earlier comments on her posting can be found here. Bibliophile said at the time that she would return to the topic, and, hooray, she has. She has listed the rules and for each one has given her own interpretation for present-day authors.

Implicit in some of these rules, but not directly stated, is that it is breaking them to have someone killed by an unknown, untraceable poison. Christie did it at least once, and this kind of thing still happens occasionally. What a cop-out.

Unlike Van Dine, I think romance ("relationship issues" we might say these days) is very acceptable in a crime story; plenty of books have been augmented in this way with no detriment to the main business of detecting, and often adding an extra dimension — Karin Slaughter is one good example of how to do it well, though Van Dine might have opined that she uses relationship tension to spin out her plots and I could not in all honesty disagree. I think there is some truth to the observation that in detective fiction, an author can get a bit carried away by the romance aspects to the detriment of the detection (eg Dorothy Sayers and Lord Peter Wimsey, or for a more modern example, Elizabeth George, in whose novels the detection is becoming almost perfunctory).

I’m with Bibliophile in thinking that the rules "there must only be one detective" and "there must be only one criminal/crime" are alright in the main but are also OK to break judiciously. Quite a few modern crime thrillers work well by having two separate threads of plot which are not apparent as separate to the reader until quite late on. It is just as satisfying for apparently distinct plots to converge as it is for misdirection to let the reader deduce that a plot is one whereas actually it is more, so long as the author does not "cheat" the reader in some of the other ways outlined in the rules.

Apart from these exceptions, I agree with Bibliophile and the original rules: that good detective, crime, mystery or thriller fiction (whatever you want to call it), does well to operate within this framework. Oh yes, and keep it short (ideally less than 250 pages). Reader satisfaction will be the result.

At the end of Bibliophile’s post is her expansion of the original list of cliches to be avoided (the dog that did not bark in the night, type of thing). This is fun, and I hope people will add to her list of these. I am sure plenty more cliches have accrued since 1929.

Olympian poll

Breaking update on those Greek goddesses and gods. Jenny has now put a poll onto her blog The Little Hibiscus Fairy to ask people to vote for their favourite goddess or god. Please go over and participate — it is only a one-question poll so will take 5 seconds. It will mean a great deal to Jenny to have more than four participants (herself, Cathy, me and Malcolm).


Ups and downs of writing

Alison Gresik was working with a writing coach, and as an exercise, had to meet her gremlin, "the negative voice inside my head that makes it hard to create". Her gremlin is her twin self, who talks to her in the second person, tells her to play it safe and not stick out from the crowd. But:  "The thing is, I kind of like her. She does want to help. She belongs to me, she’s part of the gang. She’s annoying but endearing as long as I don’t succumb to her tirades and arguments. We can even joke from time to time. She plays a bit of the fool, overdoing her part, to help me see that I shouldn’t listen. And she feels better once she lets off some steam. By noticing the things that set her off, I can identify the problem areas and give them attention." What’s your gremlin like?, asks Alison.

In a related (kind of) post, Paperback Writer discusses the movie LA Confidential.  Although the publishing industry isn’t like the bleak world depicted in the movie, says PBW, "losing track over the years of the reasons why you take on a difficult job, and keep working at it, now that is something that can happen to any of us." She continues: "Whatever happens to you before, during or after publication, whatever is said and done, whatever good or harm comes your way, don’t forget why you’re a writer."

There is a good interview with Lynn Veihl (PBW) here, by the way.

The z in Amazon

I’ve been let down by Amazon for the first time. (We have had our ups and downs previously, but nothing like this.) Last weekend I ordered a book for Jenny — the second of a pair on "100 Greek myths". The local bookshops could run only to part 1 (1-50) which Jenny read in a day and a half.  Although we are not talking obscurity here, this is a mainstream children’s book from a major publisher and in print, I am used to this in our local bookshops with their focus on the top/fashionable sellers and almost zero interest in the children’s classics. Amazon will sort this, I thought.

Sure enough, on geting home, Amazon was showing a 24 hour delivery. I therefore placed my order, adding in a couple of paperbacks from ‘that’ list, and opting for first-class delivery rather than the free service, as Jenny didn’t want to wait the extra days for 51-100. Autoconfirm, delivery anticipated on Monday.

Then nothing happened. I checked back a couple of times during the week, and the order was still unprocessed, all three books still 24 hour delivery, but estimated delivery date in the past. On Thursday I sent an email status request (quite a challenge given their strenuous attempts to force customers to stick to their FAQ lists, but I got there and clicked all the correct buttons for their email report form). No answer! On previous occasions when I’ve had to go this far, I have at least received an immediate response acknoweldging receipt of the enquiry. Checked again this evening — the order was still showing unprocessed, estimated delivery date last Monday, and the books still on 24 hour delivery.

So I cancelled the order and have just dashed round three Borderstones — the book still is not in stock but they have ordered it (they swear) for arrival Tuesday. While there, Jenny picked up a book of Greek gods and goddesses and is sitting next to me reading that as I type. I don’t think it will last until Tuesday at the rate she is going, but I hope it will stem the desire for long enough.

(Jenny started studying Ancient Greece at school when her Sats finished at the end of last week, by the way, hence this current deep interest in the topic.)

As for Amazon, I am not impressed. They’re on a warning.

Update: 1950. Jenny has finished the book. She’s now reading "A guide to the names in Greek mythology". Roll on Tuesday.

Room of gods and goddesses

News update: I am glad to see that Minx can now comment on typepad blogs again. Welcome back, Minx.

Jenny has uploaded her Greek gods and goddesses mini-room into her Flickr area. She used green wallpaper and a tree effect to make the room look like a forest, she tells me. She has also annotated each god or goddess so you can tell who they are (quite difficult given the mini-roommaker selection options, though Hades is quite cool).

Jenny has made a few other mini-rooms too, including an ice-skating scene, which she has collected together as a Flickr set.