Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"He Is to Be Deceived Only in a Straightforward Manner"

"The Detective Story."
By M. Thornton Armstrong.
First appearance: The Editor (May 1906).
Online (HERE).
This one, brief and to the point, should be required reading for today's generation of crime fiction writers. A few excerpts:
THERE ARE A FEW requisites of a good detective story which the seasoned reader of that class of fiction demands. The following list does not cover the whole ground, but without these the writer cannot hope to interest the true lover of detection.
1. A Good Plot — The plot is the whole of a detective story.
2. No Superfluous Characters — Every man, woman, and child, dog and darning needle, must have his, her, or its place in the plot . . . .
3. A Wrong Clue — The reader must be led gently and fatuously on to think that he alone, of all readers, has the true solution . . . .
4. Only Legitimate Deception — The reader is entirely at the mercy of the author, and hence he is to be deceived only in a straightforward manner.
5. A Tragic Plot — A murder is the only really enthralling subject for a detective story. 
6. Plenty of Obstacles — Don't let the work of detection be too easy, the path too smooth. Let the detective's perspicacity fail, his carefully laid plans miscarry.
. . . The reader must not give up in despair, losing interest in the apparently clueless jumble. Keep him amused with his own private guess-work and conclusions until you throw his little imaginings aside and tell him all.
Armstrong ends his page-and-a-half lecture with a nice rug-making metaphor.

- Compare Armstrong's prescription for writing mysteries with R. Austin Freeman's HERE.
- Other ONTOS visits with detective fiction critics can be found HERE and HERE.
Category: Detective fiction criticism (writer's school division)

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