Some things don’t change

photo by Garry Knight

photo by Garry Knight

Karalee’s Post #16

I happened to be channel surfing the other day and came upon a documentary called the Agatha Christie Code. I found it very intriguing. A research team decided to analyse Christie’s writing for word length, repetition and structure.

Apparently Christie used much the same concepts in all of her books:

  • Repeats words and uses words with similar meanings multiple times in a short space. It seems that using the same or similar words three times in a paragraph helps convince the reader about the concept.
  • Uses simple everyday language.
  • Uses dialogue extensively. Often what a character says and what the reader interprets is the solution in her mysteries.
  • Uses very similar writing style in all her books; on average she uses the same number of letters in a word, and approximately same number of words in a sentence. (I find this astounding.)
  • Often introduces nine or more characters, and each with a motive (their own plot line). Apparently the human’s conscious mind can only process five to nine concepts at a time so the reader becomes overloaded and seems to experience and feel the book more. Getting into the book and really ‘feeling’ it is what is memorable to the reader.
  • Uses more descriptive passages at the beginning than the end of the book, which controls the speed of the reader. The race to the climax with shorter sentences keeps the reader reading and not able to put the book down.

At the end of the documentary it stood out for me that many of the concepts I’ve learned in the craft of writing are still working strong today: the importance of dialogue, using simple language, and that longer passages decreases the pace while shorter sentences speed up the pace of a book.

One concept Christie uses that seems to be frowned upon in today’s teaching of the craft is the repetition of words within a few paragraphs. Maybe I’ll try this in my writing though, since after Shakespeare, Christie is the world’s bestselling author in any genre, with more than 2 billion books sold.

Beyond a doubt, the Agatha Christie Code works.

Our 5Writer’s deadline is fast approaching. I’m confident that I will have my first draft completed, albeit on the skeleton side compared to Joe saying he has to pare his down. I’m still struggling with one plot line that I can feel, but can’t seem to find the right setting for, that brings my protagonist and the villain together a few times over the course of my book.

I also seem to be writing this book in a different order than I’ve done before, that is, not chronologically. I’m writing slower than usual and working through the complete progress of my villain, and I will have to go back and fill in the protagonist’s very important bits later!

I need to ramp up and pour jet fuel onto my back burner and write away. Like the rest of my group, I’ve taken the last week or so off and spent time with the family. Now it’s time for pop-in-the-oven meals and longer writing days.

Everything needs to be in balance. Agatha Christie knew this well.

Happy writing.

6 thoughts on “Some things don’t change

  1. Great observations – the only one I would take issue with is the one you pointed out – repeating words too often in a given space. That’s a bug of mine.

    And it’s not just short sentences – if you break long paragraphs up into shorter ones that also helps the reader feel an increase in pace. One thing I noted though is that some of what is called “increasing pace” is actually not – shorter sentences don’t, by themselves, increase the pace at which the plot moves – they APPEAR to increase pace – the reader reads more sentences, therefore feels as though they are reading faster, so they feel as if they are moving through the story more quickly – which does not necessarily mean the actual pace of the plot has changed – it’s a sort of trick. Shorter sentences can also raise tension, which can also feel like a pace increase. (Oddly enough, long, complex sentences can increase tension as well if they’re structured correctly and they flow in the right way, creating a rushing head-long forward feel).

  2. This is the most helpful post I’ve read (at least to me), and bevcooke’s comment was helpful as well. I write “by ear,” my only formal training being freshman comp. and legal writing. (Legal writing is to writing as military music is to music.)
    I hate repeating words, and avoid it at all costs. I’ll have to look at Christie’s work and see how or why she does it. Thanks again for the lesson.

  3. Everytime I read an article like this, it makes me take another look at my writing! By the way, great article! Keep up with the insights on making all of us better writers!

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