Writing lessons for your next bestseller from the ‘Queen of Crime’ – Agatha Christie
“I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”
Agatha Christie made my childhood. I remember saving up money in my little piggy-bank and triumphantly handing it over to my mother to buy me the next ‘Queen of Crime’ bestseller. But little did I know then that the books were more than the fifty in change I’d managed to save. But once the book was handed over into my safe possession, I would spend many school-nights reading myself into a stupor. I would carry it in my backpack to read anxiously on the way to school and during tiffin-time, because I couldn’t wait another 24 hours to find out who, indeed, was the real murderer. Even now, years later, I remember the bout of sadness I’d experience on finishing a Christie book, cursing my fast-reading skills and impatience for not making it last a day longer.
Image : www.biography.com
That’s the beauty of Agatha Christie. She would make you stay up nights, trick you into thinking that you’d solved the crime, only to take you by surprise at the very end by introducing five more segments to the ones you’d read and re-read for analysis. The Guinness Book of World Records recognises her as the best-selling novelist of all time, and they’re quite right, considering her books have been translated into over a 100 languages and her novels, collectively, have sold more than four billion copies worldwide.
Keeping to the times, Christie initially adopted the pen-name of ‘Mary Westmacott’ for her romance novels. However, she soon realised that her true talent lay in creating the perfect crime fiction, a legacy which very few have been able to rival over the decades. Christie tried to incorporate her surroundings into her fiction. She would often model her characters on real-life people she encountered, thus creating simultaneously exaggerated and realistic scenarios in her stories.
Christie’s life, too, was extremely interesting. She was known to suffer from ADD and hence would often leave certain projects mid-way to start others. But her sheer brilliance of creativity and mindset would enamour her to complete these together and raise her literary value by offering both abject quality and quantity.
There is and always will be only one Agatha Christie in literary history, but there are some tricks of her trade that we’d like to relay to you that could give you the push to pick up your pen and try your hand at creating your own Poirot!
Building the perfect backdrop
Christie was always quick to ensure that her story was placed in the perfect setting – be it in the fictitious small Balkan country of ‘Herzoslovakia’, whose citizens’ “hobby” it was to “assassinate kings and have revolutions” or the fictional town of ‘St. Mary Mead’, which she claimed was a “microcosm to represent human nature” and had colourful characters titillating around extreme emotions of adultery, greed, lust, deceit and envy. Such settings would lead the reader to expect something chilling from the very beginning. Little details, such as the dark, winding roads, the “cold cusp” of a character’s “wandering hair”, the “emptiness” of a character’s eyes, gave off the feeling that doom was just around the corner.
Larger than life characters
On one hand, we had the dandy Belgian Private Investigator Hercule Poirot, a man with a strange accent and an even stranger wardrobe, perching on the realms of a hypocritical Edwardian society. On the other, we had the more subdued, overlooked and elderly Mrs. Marple, who used her age and seeming naiveté to get all her information on the case. Both Poirot and Mrs. Marple are fashioned as ‘ordinary superheroes’, a different kind of Sherlock Holmes, who turn up at the right time to save the day, or well, solve the crime. Both characters are equal parts relatable and equal parts alien, so that the verbosity of intrigue towards their respective stories grows by the minute.
Working the story around the murder or event
In a typical Agatha Christie story, the murder scene, or the scene with the ‘cause’, is the one that sets off everything else into motion. Christie often stated that she would plan out the murder or event first and then set the introduction, background and resolution following it. This would give it the right amount of substance and feel. Thus, contrary to the traditional ‘beginning, middle and end’, the murder scene would be the ‘beginning’ and the events would this unravel from it.
Providing a plot twist
Any great writer will tell you that the main part of writing a great story is to make sure that it doesn’t get predictable, and Agatha Christie thrived on making her readers second-guess themselves. She would introduce a massive plot twist towards the end, when readers just thought that they’d figured it out. That’s when you know you’ve got a great story – when you’ve got your readers hooked to the extent that they’ve bitten their nails all the way down to their cuticles.
It is difficult to find a name that can rival the ‘Queen of Crime’ when it comes to the world of Crime Fiction, and Christie’s work will make it down to generations yet to come. Happy birthday, Agatha Christie!