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  1. Vance
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    Vance Member

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    Van Dine's Twenty Rules for writing detective stories.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Vance, Feb 6, 2011.

    I'm sure everyone here has read a detective novel or two, and maybe some of you toyed with the idea of writing a mystery novel yourself.

    S.S Van Dine, a famous crime writer, made a list of twenty rules that all mystery novels should follow. It should be noted, not all mystery writers followed them, but the number of good mystery novels that doesn't break those rules far outnumbers the ones that did.

    The mystery genre is unique in that it is the only genre that has such a specific set of rules(Knox and Chandler also made similar rulesets) and I would like to know what you guys think of it. Do you agree with his rules? Do you think they are too restrictive?

    I personally agree with them. The rule for the love interest should be taken with a grain of salt, but the others are perfectly solid advice for keeping your story ridden from the mistakes a crime fan would hate.

    So, what do you think of them? Would you want a novel you are reading to follow those rules? Would you want to write a novel that follows those rules?

    (Note: The rules are public domain by now, so it's fine for me to be posting them here)
     
  2. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Definitely don't agree with number 7. But then again I place several crimes on the same mantle as murder.

    Also for 17. What if the proffesional criminal IS someone well respected and known for charity work? Actually that reminds me of a Law and Order episode... Someone you wouldn't suspect being the criminal?

    Some of them... well actually I don't think I would so limit myself with a lot of those rules. But then again I am a bit of a fan of secret societies and all that. But then again I am not a detective writer. lol
     
  3. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    one should not overlook the fact tht van dine/wright was writing for an earlier generation of readers [the 'flapper age' 20-30s, as he died in 1939]... thus his 'rules' don't necessarily apply to what today's want to read...
     
  4. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah, I agree with some of them only.

    Some of my favourite detective stories (even from the 30s/40s) already don't 'stick' to those rules, especially 3 and 5...

    Interesting read though, thanks for posting. :)
     
  5. Vance
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    Vance Member

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    Definitely. His rules still apply to most of the cozy mystery genre though, as the genre is the grandson of the Golden Age.

    Some of his rules however, like the servant rule, while relevant back then, no longer work for today's mysteries. Servants can definitely be made worthwhile persons and as such avoid being above all suspicion by a competent enough writer.
     
  6. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with some of them, but only on a personal level. I personally despise these kinds of rulebooks. They squash creativity and seem to be a manual for an uninspired and predictable story. A lot of them also seem to be pretty much just made up for the sake of being shocking.
     
  7. Vance
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    Vance Member

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    Shocking? I definitely disagree with that. Van Dine's stories were the furthest thing from shocking I could think of. I assume you are referring to the "deader the better" rule. What Van Dine meant by that is that the deader the corpse, the more you are giving the reader a guarantee that the corpse was indeed dead and that he shouldn't worry about trivialities.

    Van Dine(and many Golden Age writers) approached the genre as a game between reader and writer.

    The rules Van Dine proposed weren't made for any sort of shock value, but rather because, like he said, the detective story was at the time(and still is by some) considered a sporting event, and every sporting event needs its rules.

    Van Dine's rules were much more bounding than Knox's, but I agree with them. They are the spirit of the contest. In fact, as opposed to shock value, the rules praise predictability, to an almost reprehensible(but charming) degree. The solution must be something the reader can predict, or else there is no game.

    (Hope I'm not sounding rude here)
     
  8. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I thought Show meant that the rules themselves had shock value, i.e that they were deliberately written to be exaggerated and provocative.

    I think most of the rules make sense. For example, #5 is just the "no deus ex machina" rule applied to detective fiction. Others are good general pointers, but can be broken if you have a good idea of how to do it.

    #4 is interesting. You could break it by letting the detective be the murderer, let the reader find out in chapter 2, and then spend the rest of the story describing how the detective tries to handle the case without incriminating himself. That could make a very interesting story, but it wouldn't be a detective story.
     
  9. Show
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    ^^^^Yah, that's what I meant. The rules seem designed to be provocative and I am sure they are not without merit, but they all seem to be largely guidelines(at best).

    I also think that a 'detective' novel in today's day and age is considerably different anyway. So I already think some of these are outdated. Ultimately, I still am in the boat of writing your story the way it should be done without worrying about silly rule lists like these.
     

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