Sunday, November 13, 2005

Mystery Advice from the Masters

I came across a 1967 reprint of the 1945 Writing Detective and Mystery Fiction (ed. A. S. Burack), with a line-up of contributors to make any potential mystery writer drool. There's S. S. Van Dine's classic "Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories" (Rule #7: "There simply must be a corpse in a detective novel, and the deader the corpse the better."). There's Dorothy L. Sayers's lucid "Detective Fiction: Origins and Development" ("The art of self-tormenting is an ancient one, with a long and honourable literary tradition") and John Creasey (he of the 600-novel output after 743 rejection slips prior to his first sale) explaining that "[w]riting more, in nine cases out of ten, is only a question of wanting to write more." There's Mary Stewart on setting ("What a writer is doing is to open a gateway on someone else's imagination.")

In addition, A. A. Fair, aka Erle Stanley Gardner, discusses his approach to writing the mystery with a touching humility. Says Gardner, "Personally I like a story that is just a little short of the hard-boiled school. A mystery story that has an element of humor, a puzzling plot, and a style of narration that makes for swift action . . . That, of course, is the ideal toward which I strive, the goal I seek to attain. Probably better than anyone else, I realize how far I miss that goal."

This from the man whose novels once sold 26,000 copies per day.

This book demonstrates how in writing, there really is no new problem under the sun, and how much these seasoned practitioners can still teach us.

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