Monday, February 25, 2013

Monsignor Ronald Knox's 10 Rules Of Detective Fiction


I love murder mysteries.

You'd think I'd have written a murder mystery by now given they are half of what I read, but I haven't. I've tried, but my stories are stubborn and insist on being urban fantasy.

Often, perhaps to convince my muse to let me write a mystery story, I've analyzed one of Agatha Christie's who-done-it's in an attempt to expose her magic, her formula, her secret.

So far, bupkis.


Monsignor Ronald Knox's 10 Rules Of Detective Fiction


Perhaps I should try again, but, in lieu of that, here is a list of Monsignor Ronald Knox's (1888 -- 1957) 10 rules of detective fiction:
1) The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow;

2) All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course;

3) Not more than one secret room or passage is allowed;

4) No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end;

5) No [stereotype] ... must figure in the story;

6) No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right;

7) The detective must not himself commit the crime;

8) The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader;

9) The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader;

10) Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them. (How crime fiction has moved on, Rebecca Armstrong, The Independent)
Ronald Knox's list is currently displayed at "the entrance to the Murder in the Library, a compact new exhibition that charts the A-Z of crime fiction at the British Library" (How crime fiction has moved on).

Crime stories have changed over the years. These days, while it's still important the reader be able to solve the underlying puzzle of "who did the crime" we also expect authors to employ psychology in unmasking the culprit. Rebecca Armstrong writes:
The final word goes to Baroness James of Holland Park herself. In her elegant 2009 work Talking about Detective Fiction, she writes that "the solving of the mystery is still at the heart of a detective story," but that, like all forms of entertainment, it has, as it must, evolved. "I see the detective story becoming more firmly rooted in the realities and the uncertainties of the 21st century, while still providing that central certainty that even the most intractable problems will in the end be subject to reason." Fewer secret rooms, then, and a lot more psychology are the hallmarks of the modern whodunit. (How crime fiction has moved on)
Rebecca Armstrong has written an entertaining and instructive article, it's well with a look.

Thanks to The Passive Voice Blog for the link.

Other articles you might like:

- How to record an audiobook at home
- The Importance Of Finding Your Own Voice
- Write A Novel In A Year, Chuck Wendig's Plan: The Big 350

Photo credit: "Touch to believe" by Jsome1 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

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