While I see other people write posts about Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, I can’t do that. Why, you ask? Because I’ve never seen them. In fact, I’m not even sure what they are about (okay, I know TWD is about zombies, but that’s about it).
But I do know about one thing and that is a good mystery. That’s how I spend my TV watching time. I've been rewatching all of Agatha Christies' Poirot shows with my family recently and loving every minute!
Poirot is a little Belgian man of a certain age who is very fussy and a little...odd. He sometimes confuses his English idioms (“Don’t beat about the trees, Hastings.”) and is very proper. Many people upon meeting him believe him to be French, which upsets him to no end. Even with all of his idiosyncrasies Poirot does everything well. If he doesn’t do it well, he simply doesn’t do it. Oh, and did I mention the mustache?
It dawned on me the other night that Poirot has taught me several things about writing a good mystery. He didn’t come out and tell me these things, but rather, taught me through his actions.
5 Things Poirot Has Taught Me about Writing A Good Mystery
- Apply Order and Method
Now, I'll admit that I've taught students about the writing process for years. But for some reason, I thought writing fiction would be different. What amazed me was that it wasn't! I found myself using the same "order and method" that I'd used when I was writing for everything, including the thesis for my Master's degree in English. Poirot taught me to trust that--my own style of order and method and to allow that to guide me.
2. Discover the Red Fishes (Herrings)
Of course, he was talking about the red herrings in the mysteries he solves, but when writing a good mystery, there are also red herrings. Some of my ideas end up on the cutting room floor, as they say.
When content editing my first book, Blogging is Murder, I cut approximately 40,000 words from the first draft! Yeah. I had a lot to learn. But like Poirot, I must follow my own "order and method" and right now that means writing what I'm inspired to write--what the Muses offer me--and then recognize the red herrings later.
3. Understand the Victim's Psychology
Poirot knows that the victim is often the biggest clue in the case. It's important for the writer to understand the psychology of the victim so that they can determine the why's of the motive of bumping them off.
In Blogging is Murder, the victim is Connie Payne. But dear ole' Connie had a lot of secrets and reasons why someone would want to do her in. I had to discover exactly who Connie was, deep down, so that I could figure out the best suspects and the identity of the killer.
Some of the characters in the book thought Jade was being unfair, digging into Connie's past, because she, after all, is the victim. Poirot taught me that to write a good mystery, I must dig into the victim's life to discover the real clues.
4. Listen and Observe
If you want to write a good mystery, you need to keep your eyes and ears open wherever you are. I've gotten great ideas to include in my books by letting my imagination run away with me when I overheard a conversation or observed strange behavior in a store or restaurant. Everything is fodder for the next book--so if you are ever around an author, watch what you say and do, or you may recognize yourself in their next book! 🙂
Poirot often makes a connection between clues that solve the case by listening and observing. Sometimes it's his dimwitted, but lovable, sidekick Hastings who inadvertently says something that makes it all click. Other times it's the client or even one of the suspects. It doesn't matter who says or does it, as long as the detective (or writer) catches it and makes the connection.
5. Nourish the Little Grey Cells
Writing a good mystery is hard work. Even though it is a total blast to plot murder, it takes stamina and diligence to see it through. Not all parts of writing a mystery is fun, though most is. And there's always a time in which the writer is behind schedule and has to work day and night to finish it on time (we can't leave our fans hanging!)
But Poirot has taught me the importance of taking time out to rest, eat and think. Sometimes he will sit and think when the good Inspector Japp only sees the urgency of the matter and wants to take action. But Poirot understands that without the use of his little grey cells, taking action is futile. Good food, plenty of rest and enough space to think is vital to writing a good mystery--or solving one!