Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

4\. Planning the Story

  • Henry Kitchell Webster gives perhaps a more definite formula than those above quoted:
  • > BEFORE WRITING: 1. Plan original crime, method, and motive of the murderer.
  • 2. Create, with this as a nucleus, sub-plots relating to several persons who by coincidence are drawn to the place or are connected with the victim, in different ways.
  • >
  • > THEN WRITE. 1. Introduction. 2. Murder discovery. 3. Then take up the least likely suspect first, followed by others. 4. Hero Detective enters, decides, arrests and explains.
  • Mr. Gelett Burgess constructs his stories by architectural diagrams. The first story in his book, "The Master of Mysteries," (published anonymously) is "The Missing John Hudson"—We subjoin its preliminary plan:
  • _[Editor's note: This diagram may display better on your eBook device in landscape mode rather than portrait mode.   That is, in horizontal orientation rather than vertical.]_
  • (Murder) (A) d) / | \ / | \ - - -> (?) a) | \ (Disappearance) | \ | (Elopement) \ b) - - - - (B) d) - - - (D) | | (Correct Solution) c) | / \ | / \ | / (C) d) (Theft) "The Missing John Hudson"
  • a, b, c, d = Clues A, B, C, D = Hypotheses
  • Another well-known writer gives this very definite formula:
  • > 1\. Preliminaries. Status quo. Introduction of dramatis personae.
  • >
  • > 2\. Birth of Plot. Assembly of actors and assignment of parts.
  • >
  • > 3\. Tentative separation of sheep from goats, intentionally misleading.
  • >
  • > 4\. The Crime,—shot into the story like a bomb.
  • >
  • > 5\. Gropings for murderer, on part of the police, coroner, friends, relatives and amateur detective.
  • >
  • > 6\. Failure of everybody. Call in Transcendent Detective.
  • >
  • > 7\. He glances about, announces that the facts are thus and so and proves that the facts are thus and so.
  • >
  • > 8\. Discreet removal of the villain by suicide, accident or otherwise.
  • >
  • > 9\. Marriage of the girl to the amateur detective. (This is invariable and imperative!)
  • >
  • > The last item is in satiric vein, for among our best writers it is not considered imperative!
  • All of the foregoing formulae, kindly contributed by their authors, cannot fail to be of use to the beginning writer of Detective Stories. They all agree in the principal points, and are quite in line with Poe's strict laws.
  • The rights of the reader must be kept in mind by the author. It is not fair to mislead the reader until he is up against a blank wall. A false clue must lead in an obvious and seemingly logical direction. Then the false clue must be detected, as a natural consequence of the mistaken lead, and the right clues brought into view. It is not fair to make an innocent character appear guilty or vice versa, but it is quite right if the character make himself appear so.
  • A witness who stammers and hesitates, may be guilty or may be innocently embarrassed. That is for the reader to judge.
  • And just in proportion to the cleverness and subtlety of the author's inventive genius, will the reader be duly and rightfully bewildered, or misled, and the game be well played.
  • Prof. Max Dessoir, in a very fine article on "The Psychology of Conjuring,"
  • writes as follows:
  • > "By awakening interest in some unimportant detail, the conjurer concentrates that attention on some false point, or negatively, diverts it from the main object, and we all know the senses of an inattentive person are pretty dull… When causing the disappearance of some object, the conjurer counts one, two, three, because, the attention of the public being diverted to three, they do not notice what happens at one and two… A specially successful method of diversion is founded on the human craze for imitation… The conjurer counts on this in many cases. He always looks in the direction where he wants the attention of the public, and does everything himself which he wants the public to do… If the trick is in the left hand, the conjurer turns sharply to the person to the right, presuming correctly that the spectators will make the same movement, and will not notice what is going on in the left hand… Every sharp, short remark will, for a moment, at least, divert the eyes from the hands and direct them to the mouth, according to the above-mentioned law of imitation."
  • These most valuable directions may be helpfully adapted to the writing of Detective Stories. The author is, in a way, a conjuror, with an avowed intent to hoodwink his audience.
  • Detective Stories call for logic, plausibility and a true sense of proportion.
  • Literary ability is to be desired; but before that, there must be power of deduction and a perfect sense of values.