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Archive for October, 2007

There are many ways to answer this question, but for brevity’s sake let’s assume the short answer is yes.

Firstly, we have to look to the past and ask ourselves: What were the rules to writing mystery fiction? Enter the Detection Club.

Who? If you’re a Science Fiction fan, think of the Detection Club as Mystery’s Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, and Bradbury (except for the fact that they already founded a club devoted to the mystery genre in the 1920’s).

The most prominent members of the Detection Club were Dorothy L. Sayers (who created Lord Peter Wimsey), G.K. Chesterson (who created the Father Brown character), and Agatha Christie (probably the most famous mystery writer of all time – she created Hercule Poirot). Well, perhaps her fame was equal to that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who penned the adventures of a certain Sherlock Holmes).

It’s believed that Sayers (If you’re a hardcore Science Fiction fan who only reads SF, think of her as Mystery’s Damon Knight) drafted the club’s oath, which contained the rules of mystery fiction:

1] Detectives must solve mysteries by using their wits (and not divine revelation, coincidence, or simply stumbling upon the solution).

2] Never conceal any vital clue from the reader.

3] Elements such as super-criminals, trapdoors, and similar contrivances should be used sparingly.

4] Poisons unknown to Science are forbidden.

How are these rules affected by the addition of speculative elements (from Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, and Dark Fantasy)? Do the rules stand or fall?

1] Detectives must solve mysteries by using their wits (and not divine revelation, coincidence, or simply stumbling upon the solution). Stand or fall ruling: For the most part, this rule stands. Let me first say that solving a mystery by coincidence or just lucking out leaves the reader feeling cheated and thinking, the protagonist was just lucky. Remember never cheat your reader like that…ever.

The divine revelation may be used, but needs to be done intelligently and with great caution. It may be much more interesting if divine revelation leads the protagonist away from the solution. It’s not entertaining or thought-provoking if everything is too easy.

Similarly, the use of abilities such as telepathy may be used, but the extent of the ability should have some restrictions. Besides, bad guys don’t go around reciting “How I murdered person x” in their heads all day long. Better yet, how about giving the bad guy the ability?

2] Never conceal any vital clue from the reader. Stand or fall ruling: This rule never falls. Period. Again, the reader feels cheated. The writer didn’t play fair. Remember, readers of mystery fiction often want to have a chance of solving the case before the protagonist does.

3] Elements such as super-criminals, trapdoors, and similar contrivances should be used sparingly. Stand or fall ruling: This is an interesting one, because it was the one rule that was most influenced the club member’s own chosen categories of mysteries, namely Cozy and Amateur sleuth categories.  Okay, Agatha Christie’s Poirot may have been a bit different. There is no hard and fast ruling here, but ask yourself this before you commit: “Is the element believable (given your genre, the context of your story, and what has gone before with regard to plot)?”

If the answer is yes, include the element. If not, exclude it. Also, never let these elements defeat probability and appear out of nowhere without having left telltale clues of their arrival – plot and logical consistency are uber-important.

4] Poisons unknown to Science are forbidden. Stand or fall ruling: Another interesting one…You may break this rule in Speculative Mystery crossover stories, BUT you must create a sufficient Science of your own. I’m not saying write a thesis, but put some thought into your extrapolations.

Details such as how the otherworldly / future poison works, its origin, and possible antidotes (if any) should be thought out ahead of time. These details can often inspire logical (yet unpredictable) plot twists.

This process can be similar to how Fantasy writers develop their systems of magic by looking at science.

Final ruling: In conclusion, I have to add that rules can be bent, spindled, and mutilated (or would mutated be more interesting?). The fun part is deciding which rules to adhere to and which to ignore.

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Hello world!

Welcome to my blog! Lovers (writers and readers) of speculative mystery crossover short fiction, please watch this space in the coming weeks!

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