Apr 5, 2010

D is for Detectives and Dichotomy

D is for Detective Stories.

Detective mysteries are a popular genre. Two of my WIPs are mysteries featuring amateur detectives (Dog Show Detective and Warracknabeal Kids). I thought I'd have a look at some elements of detective fiction.

A crime that consists of a method and motive (to be revealed later in the story). The crime should be significant and is usually murder, but if it is a case of theft it must be something of great value such as: priceless jewellery, incriminating evidence that can be used for blackmail, a child or a valuable show dog (just thought I'd throw that one in there). 

Suspects (and plenty of them) - these characters can provide good subplots through their connection to the victim (and sometimes each other).

In the amateur detective novel the police will begin by separating the non-suspects from the suspects, which often leads to mistaken assumptions. The professionals will fail to solve the crime because they don't posses some special insight that the amateur detective has.

Clues, the reader must have a fair chance to work out the mystery as the detective does. These will sometimes be ambiguous or confusing but the detective will sort the real clues from the red herrings and deduce their significance and meaning and link them to the ultimate killer.

Many mysteries are solved by deductions - instead of working out which suspect is guilty, the detective will eliminate suspects one at a time (often by having them turn up with a knife in their back) and the last one left is your killer.
Dichotomy is a writing device that is popular in fiction (it is the process of grouping themes or characters into binary oppositional groups). In order for opposites to reveal as dichotomies they must belong to one of the two opposing groups and never cross over. These days most writers using a dichotomy will have it strong to begin with but then start to blur the boundaries, showing that themes are rarely 'black and white'. Some popular uses are to show the dichotomy of:
  • good and evil
  • rich and poor
  • human and alien
  • life and death
In Warracknabeal Kids I will have a protagonist (12yr. old boy) begin with assumptions of the dichotomy of right and wrong. These will be supported by his father's view that the law decides and by the church's view that the soul decides. As the narrative progresses the boy will see the conflicts of defining right and wrong by actions, outcomes or intentions. The purpose of this is to support my novel's premise: Sometimes it takes a wrong action to make things right.

D is for Dedication - and I wanted to say thank you to my special followers who have gone to visit my daughters' new book review blog. The girls are now racing to finish novels so they can review them for the site and they were absolutely over the moon when they saw they had comments. Thanks again and much love your way :-)

I'll leave you with some links for writing detective fiction:

and one for teachers to use when teaching the detective genre:


  1. I've never tried writing a mystery. It seems to complicated for me! You really have the process down. I'd love to read one of your WIP's. :)

  2. Like Aubrie, I've never tried writing mysteries. Although using guidelines like what you have set forth here would be helpful for one who wanted to do so. I love a good detective story.
    Very instructional post.

  3. I love reading mysteries, but I don't know if I could write one. I already outline, but I imagine that if I were to write a mystery, I'd write a more complex outline that I already am.

  4. I think I like the idea of a plot requiring a detailed outline because it's like a safety net for me.
    Thanks for the comments :-)
    PS - always welcome to read the WIPs - but at this stage they'd come with a set of red pens and lots of work to do ;-)