Today the My Book Tour website welcomes mystery writer, C. L. Ragsdale. Ms. Ragsdale is the author of eight fantastic mystery novels. C.L. joins us to chat about Ronald Knox's "Mystery Rules" and adds of her own commentary for readers, so let's get started!
|Author C. L. Ragsdale|
“The Mystery Rules”
Author Guest Post by C.L. Ragsdale
I write cozy mysteries, a subgenre of crime fiction. They include cute businesses, hobbies, recipes, and superheroes.
Okay, that last one’s mine. Not so common in cozies yet, but I’m working on it.
Did you know that someone actually came up with a set of written rules for mystery writing once upon a time? I’m not kidding. Ronald Knox came up with them in 1929 so readers would have a fair chance at guessing “who done it.”
Don’t dismiss these rules out of hand, because Mr. Knox was a member of a group of mystery writers called The Detection Club. The membership included such heavy hitters as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, R. Austin Freeman, and G.K. Chesterton.
Anyway, here's the summarization, called The Knox’s “Ten Commandments” for mystery writers. I’ve included my own commentary, because I just couldn't resist.
Rule Number 1:
The criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to know.
Commentary: No dropping in a villain on the last page that has not been mentioned in the rest of the story, please. Also, no head hoping into the villain’s mind regarding the crime.
Rule Number 2:
All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.
Commentary: The ghost didn’t do it.
Rule Number 3:
Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.
Commentary: This is a mystery after all, and not a melodrama.
Rule Number 4:
No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.
Commentary: No making up your own science, that’s cheating!
Rule Number 5:
No Chinaman must figure in the story.
Commentary really needed here: This comment was not meant to be racist. British mystery writers before this time were often making foreigners the villain just because they were foreigners. Mr. Knox was objecting to this plot device, not people from China.
Rule Number 6:
No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.
Commentary: Detectives don’t just bumble into the solution. Not even bumbling detectives.
Rule Number 7:
The detective himself must not commit the crime.
Commentary: Would kind of rule out a series, wouldn’t it?
Rule Number 8:
The detective is bound to declare any clues which he may discover.
Commentary: Detectives may keep deductions to themselves, but not the actual clues. How are we supposed to be baffled by those red herrings if you don’t throw them at us?
Rule Number 9:
The “sidekick” of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal from the reader any thoughts which pass through his mind: his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.
Commentary: Sidekicks share everything with the reader, and are not stupid.
Rule Number 10:
Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.
Commentary: No “Secret Evil Twins” coming out the woodwork.
Okay those are the rules, and as a reader I approve. However, as a writer, do I follow them?
Of course. I see no mention that the detective cannot be a superhero.
ABOUT C. L. RAGSDALE:
Mystery writer C.L. Ragsdale is the author of The Reboot Files Mystery Series, and the Superhero Series, Chasing Lady Midnight. A California native, she loves to ‘surf’ the web to research plot details for her fun, quirky stories. She has a degree in Theater Arts, which greatly influenced her writing style.
Working in various fields as a secretary has allowed her to both master her writing skills and acquire valuable technical knowledge, which she uses liberally in her plots.
These days she contents herself with knitting and crocheting while contemplating her next diabolical plot. Story plot that is.
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