As you know, for this month I decided to read an Agatha Christie book. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd earned the nomination of the best mystery novel of all time, and I wanted to see what caused all the hubbub. I cheated a bit and read it over my winter break, but seeing how I make the rules of the challenge… well, the ref says “it’s okay!”.
Immediately, I noticed a couple of helpful tips for my story. While reading, I tried to read less for pleasure — although it’s quite a pleasurable read — and more from a writer’s point of view. I wanted to analyze the choices Agatha made so that I could bring the positive ones into my work. Now, I am not saying that I want to become the next Agatha Christie, however, learning from the best can only make you better. As such this review will be less about the story and more about the craft. I wouldn’t want to ruin it for you anyways because you certainly should read it. Remember, if you do decide to read DO NOT read any reviews (besides this one of course) or a spoiler may disappoint you.
The first thing I noticed was the sheer number of interwoven characters. I like how Christie put the characters in a small town setting, as it adds to the busy body effect of the novel. All the characters need to link up together, even if loosely so, to make it difficult for the reader to separate them into possible suspects. Christie worked hard to make the suspect she wanted you to focus on, at any particular time, in the foreground while still having them surrounded by other good candidates for the blame. The question “who done it” deserves a resounding “anyone!” for an answer. Here is the nerdy web-map I made of the book:
I also noticed that mystery is all about the well-placed carrots. As readers, we are bunnies jumping from one theory to the next, happy to do so as long as we obtain a crunchy new clue. Writing mysteries is kind of like being a magician, you want to make your readers think one thing, while you are setting up for something different. Because of this, I think I need to start from the end of my story and work my way backward as I plan.
So to recap and share my new plan for success please see the following:
I am going to create at least five characters which are a bunch for a short story.
I am going to start with the event and work my way backward when outlining.
I need to have a strong background story for all my characters, so they have motives.
And I need to find creative links between characters to muddy the waters.