One Neat Trick to Writing Great Mystery Plots
vulture.com – Thursday October 17, 2019
I spend a lot of time thinking about a Raymond Chandler quote I once read. “The perfect detective story cannot be written,” he said. “The type of mind which can evolve the perfect problem is not the type of mind that can produce the artistic job of writing.”
Well — shoot. It has the ring of truth to it, unfortunately. Almost every writer seems to start out interested either in narrative or talking, story or language, before filling in the rest later. This is why it’s funny when literary novelists who couldn’t write a competent John Wick novelization (I put this challenge squarely to A.S. Byatt) call J.K. Rowling a bad writer. She’s an indifferent stylist, sure, but in most of the other ways a writer can be “good” — character, plot, imagination — she’s brilliant. Past brilliant. Meanwhile Chandler, whom many of the same people (rightly) revere, could never, as he freely admitted, explain who killed the chauffeur in The Big Sleep.
The contemporary novelist who comes closest to real parity between story and art may be Tana French. Her most striking gift is for voice, but if her plots aren’t flawless, you can see nonetheless how hard she works to make them very, very good, with just an occasional faint seam showing, nothing more. But that’s almost certainly a product of tenacity and intelligence, not instinct. I would bet French has spent more time thinking about structure than Agatha Christie — who hatched her perfect plots in the bathtub, serenely eating apples — ever did.
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