This post has nothing to do with Pee Wee Herman or his Big Adventure, but I just really like to say that line.
This week we’re talking about writing rebels. The rules, Dottie—and how we broke ’em. This is excellent timing for me, since I proposed a panel for an upcoming book fair on the very same topic, and I’ve been giving some thought to these “rules.”
Who makes the rules, anyway?
Well, apparently this guy named “Father Knox” (Monsignor Ronald Knox, if you please) had a list of ten rules for mystery writers. These things have seen some action. Here’s what the Internet says about Knox and the origins of his rules:
ThrillingDetectives.com says “Monsignor Knox (1888-1957) was a British clergyman, editor, a literary critic, a humourist and a detective story writer himself who nicely laid out, with a gentle wit, the ‘ten rules’ that guided detective fiction in its so-called Golden Age. They appeared in the preface to Best Detective Stories of 1928-29, which Knox edited.”
Note the word “humourist” in his bio. Some posit that his rules aren’t really rules at all, but a soft rib-poking among mystery writers at the tropes we all play-with-slash-try-to-avoid.
His edicts rule out detectives solving crimes through intuition and accident, from the detective having committed the murder himself. Some of these rules are sound. They read like something you might want to pay attention to, lest you fall into that pit of cliche behind you there.
But you know what happens when you set down the law? The scofflaws line up to bust through it. That’s the beauty of writing rules. As long as you can pull it off artfully, you can break whatever rule you want.
One of Knox’s laws says
|Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.|
OK, first off, YES. That is a good rule. Preparing people for your solution is half the fun of writing a mystery. Left field does not exist in mystery writing.
But he’s also sort of making fun of the ol’ soap opera switcheroo, isn’t he? The twins/doubles tropes of the Gothic? (I took a whole class on the Gothic, and you really should, too.) The thing is, Monsignor Knox, that twins thing can work, if you do it well. And that means preparing the reader for the existence of said twin, yes, but also making sure that the story can stand on the skinny legs of what could be considered trope.
I just read a book, in fact, that used twins. Switcheroo and all. And it worked. You know why? Lovely writing, engaging characters, suspense, all cylinders firing in the story. When all that’s going on, nobody cares which rules you’re following or breaking. All they care about is getting to the end.
Oh, the book title? Sorry. It would be HUH-YUGE spoiler. And that is a rule I won’t break.
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