Detective Writing

 By: John Halasz
Ingenuity is required in detective writing, whether it is screenwriting, novel writing, or short story writing. Detective writing portrays the events of a crime, (usually a murder) and its subsequent investigation in a way that conceals the criminal's identity from the reader until the end of the book, when the method and culprit are finally revealed. Detective stories have been around for generations.

Various conventions and standards were formed during the early twentieth century. Some of the norms were put together by Ronald Knox. One of the conventions was not to use "supernatural powers" in resolving a mystery. The crime had to be established, various clues & circumstances carefully studied and then the detective writer would narrate the sequel of progress towards unraveling the mystery. The narration of the story was such that it would seize the imagination of the reader who turned page after page to find out who the criminal was or why and how the crime was committed.

Most detective authors portray a crime being solved either by professional detectives or by a gifted amateur. The cases are usually solved by painstaking, careful investigation and logical deductive reasoning. In an inverted detective story, the commission of the crime, and usually also the identity of the perpetrator, is described at the beginning. The remainder of the story then describes the subsequent investigation. Instead, the "puzzle" presented to the reader is discovering the clues and evidence that the perpetrator left behind.

The golden age of detective writing began with high class amateur detectives sniffing out culprits hiding behind trees, woods, in rose gardens or through quaint villages. One of the popular sub-genre of detective novel became "whodoneit" - short for "who done it." Often an author would create a detective who would intelligently solve the puzzle. The same detective would be used in different stories.

Agatha Christie wrote a series of books featuring her detectives Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple in novels like "Murder on the Orient Express" & "Death on the Nile." Similarly, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created his immortal characters - Sherlock Homes & Dr. Watson - that solved great murder mysteries. Detective writing was not restricted to 'adult' reading only. Detective authors like Nancy Drew wrote the Nancy Drew Series detective books and short stories for youngsters.

Another sub-genre that became popular was the 'Private Eye' type. Here the style was more narrative like news. The investigation was reported in a manner in which it was unfolded & made to appear in a detective writing style. Very often, no actual mystery even existed: the books simply revolved around justice being served and were described in great explicit detail. Their style of crime fiction came to be known as "hard-boiled," which encompasses stories with similar attitudes concentrating not on detectives but gangsters, crooks, and other offenders or victims of crimes. They were told in stark and sometimes elegant language through the unemotional eyes of new hero-detectives. This style was popular in America.
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