Agatha Christie. This is the name I read in a small book rack with the plastic sign “crime fiction” above it. A collection of her works had just come out, and I was immediately hooked by the blurb on the back of a book. Since then, I have read many of her short stories and novels, finding her intricate characters and suspenseful narratives enthralling each time.
Quick history lesson: née Miller, Agatha was born in 1890 and died in 1976. She learned to read on her own when she was five years old, and she served as a nurse in her hometown during World War I. Her first novel was rejected by every publisher she sent her manuscript to, but she finally achieved publishing The Mysterious Affair at Styles in 1920. She eventually became the bestselling novelist of all time (more than four billion books sold), and a successful playwright as well (her play The Mousetrap surpassed 28,200 performances until 2020).
I believe that reading is one of writers’ best learning opportunities, and these are some of the tips and tricks I have learned from Dame Agatha Mary Clarissa Christie.
I have been reading, writing, and analyzing literary fiction for half a decade. Lit Fic has been of interest to me for a third of my life, and I still cannot tell you how to define literary fiction. Google did not have a clear definition, but I have my definition, and if you stick around, I can offer you that.
And I can try to tell you why I am prepared to spend the rest of my life studying a genre I do not even know how to define.
Over the course of my academic career, I’ve taken quite a number of writing classes. In one of the most memorable, the instructor began the class by laying out a list of writing rules to follow. The instructor felt particularly adamant about rule number three: no “it was all just a dream” endings.
I’d wager that most people have experienced the frustration of reading or watching something that ended with the protagonist waking up in a sweaty frenzy, then looking around their room to see certain items mirroring other characters from the story. They’re a different person from when they went to sleep. Somehow, they learned a life-changing lesson in their dreams, and they’re going to change their outlook on life, effective immediately.
I don’t know about you, but whenever I read a story like that, I’m left unsatisfied. It’s a cop-out of an ending, like the author didn’t know how to wrap things up with a neat little bow so they decided to suddenly say “it was all imaginary”. Let’s unpack why this sort of ending doesn’t work.
In a world where so many things are wrong, writing might seem like a selfish endeavor — I am personally constantly grappling with this feeling of guilt when I say I want to study art instead of going for a career that can have a more tangible “good” impact on the world.
However, as I feel that, I’m also a firm believer that writing, and all art in general, is a tool of activism, and that it can either make or initiate change. Therefore I am writing this article to remind you and me of the power of art and that it can indeed change the world.
It bothers me that most people don’t know what an essay is. Many people acknowledge essays in the primped and polished format with no appreciation for a well-reasoned essay’s ability to change the world, for their own ability to change the world with a well-reasoned essay. For so long, thousands of English classes have misconstrued essays into some sort of necessary evil, and I am here to tell you why they are one of the most fun forms of writing.
Secrets, secrets are no fun… unless they're in a book. Character secrets keep things interesting – they can motivate your character, inspire their villains, and generally impact their relationships. However, as fun as they may be, overusing them can confuse your reader or make them lose interest in the story. Here’s a few things to keep in mind regarding your characters and their secrets.
Often described as melodious, tuneful, and rich, the “language of love” is one of the most learned tongues in the world. In my opinion, French stands out for its particular atmospheric quality. It can take writers' paragraphs to evoke a certain kind of feeling, but French does it in a single word. Words can show us a deep insight into culture and people, so here are two French words that do not exist in English.
Stakes in slice-of-life: Look, failing on math might not be the same as the end of the universe, but it is still bad, okay!
Slice-of-life is a genre that celebrates life as the often mundane -but not always- thing it is, you wouldn’t expect of it, for example, having its characters deal with the end of human civilization.
If our main character fails at their goal therefore, it is most likely that they would not pass the grade rather than erasing half of the population. So, are there really any stakes on slice-of-life?
Yes, and I would like to say that they’re even bigger than in the superhero genre (unless it uses slice-of-life techniques to tell its story, more on that later in the article).
In addition to being a writer, I am also a musician. I enjoy playing concerts and shows, but my best performances aren’t in front of an audience. Most of my best work is played on the piano in my living room, to an audience of no one but my cats. Even though I adore performing and writing my own music, I no longer feel the need to publish my music, and I don’t really want to perform in public anymore.
I don’t feel like my music is worth any less because it isn’t performed or monetized. The fact that a song has existed in the world for a few minutes is precious, even if I’m the only one who hears it.
This is also how I feel about writing, especially fanfiction. Even if something is not traditionally published, it holds value as art. Fanfiction is a wonderful genre of writing, as it is one of the only genres of writing that is almost fully separated from monetization (of course, there is a rising trend of some authors who chose to traditionally publish their fics and change the names).
Minor spoiler warning for The Haunting of Bly Manor
Although it’s not something that is talked about very often, reactions often play a huge part in the way horror affects people. When a character unwittingly wanders into the home of a chainsaw wielding maniac, they run away, as we expect them too. Naturally, upon seeing any kind of threat, we will feel fear, and this is no different in thriller and horror stories. Our hearts beat faster as we helplessly watch characters go to investigate that noise (which was totally just the wind by the way) and hug our pillows and grab our sheets in anticipation for the monster to finally appear. But what happens when there are no screams and no fear in the face of these monsters?
Let's take this same situation again: your character is walking into the house of the chainsaw killer, but instead of screaming, or freezing or fainting or any of the natural responses we’ve come to associate with fear, they just continue walking on. This could tell us a myriad of things: the character is familiar with the killer, the killer is not a threat nor are they worthy of attention, maybe the killer is not a killer at all, but someone in a cheap halloween costume. But the most important thing we learn about this reaction is that the killer is not something to be feared, and so the audience won’t be scared either (for the most part).