By The Fiction Editors of The Thrilling Detective Web Site
We get some great stuff here. Really great. Stories that high-five the past, yet look to the future. Stories that offer up new spins on old tradition. Fresh, creative voices that put new lyrics into old songs. Tales that kick the shit out of genre and its boundaries. And then there's those dull-as-Des Moines stories that go through every cliché and stereotype in the book, and check them off one by one, like some literary grocery list, and never offer anything more original than their byline. That's not writing, that's shopping.
Here's the kinda stuff we'd be just as happy not seeing ever again. If you really feel you must include any of these, there better be a damn good reason for it. Like you've got a fresh, creative spin on it, or it adds to the story. And don't try to tell us it's a tribute or a hommage. That's just lame. Chandler and Hammett were great writers, with keen, original visions. Pay tribute to that, not their plot devices.
Anyway, here's a few things that won't necessarily make us rip off our clothes and stand on our desks flicking our Bics:
- Any story that begins with the P.I. sitting at his desk, drinking from the office bottle.
- Any story that begins with a sultry woman walking into a PI's office while he's sitting at his desk, drinking from the office bottle.
- Any woman with "legs up to here."
- The Mafia. C'mon, guys, get with it. Give the Sicilians a break. There are tons of hard-working Russians, Iranians, Irish, Jamaicians, Hiatians, Greeks, Jews and WASPS who'd like proper respect paid for their great contributions to organized crime.
- Arab terrorists (see above).
- Any P.I. who flashes a photostat of their license. I mean, photostats? Who uses that term anymore? Hello! It's not 1929, anymore. And by the way, gunsels aren't actually guys with guns...
- Excessive references to jazz. Nothing wrong with jazz, really, but jazz snobs are a dime a dozen these days. Anyone fifty or under who listens exclusively to jazz is probably a geek or a snob. It's more likely they grew uplistening to the Stones or the Sex Pistols or Garth Brooks or Elton John or Nirvana or Motown or soul or Public Enemy or the Beatles. And chances are they're still listening to 'em. There's no shame in admitting pop culture exists. Name-dropping Mingus or Charlie Parker doesn't make you an intellectual.
- The detective should be a man or woman of their times. At least Amos Walker KNOWS he's an anachronism.
- Private eyes who drive classic automobiles or brightly-coloured sports cars. C'mon, forget Magnum, P.I. What sort of idiot tails someone in a car that draws attention to itself? Can't you just see it? "Hey, Mugsy, isn't that the same 1955 cherry-apple red T-Bird convertible in immaculate condition, with the mag wheels and the white pinstriping that was behind us yesterday?" "No, Bugsy, it must be another one."
- And be very careful before using any of these:
(These are from our mailbag, compliments of our readers)
- The bourbon in the drawer
- The fedora and the trenchcoat
- The stacked secretary
- The psycho sidekick who does all the dirty work that the virtuous P.I. won't.
- The treacherous femme fatale (this is probably the most predictable plot twist of all).
- Obsessive fitness. All that jogging is tiring us out...
- Tedious subplots and tragic pasts force-fit into the story to make the P.I. look more human, or have more depth, with no connection to the main plot.
- Faux literary self-reflection after using violence.
- Extensive Vietnam flashbacks. Okay, so Vietnam was to another generation of PI's what WWII was to Hammer. I recognize this. I understand it. I don't even mind the occasional reference to service. But guys, if I wanted to read a friggin' war novel, I'd read a friggin' war novel.
- Let's put political correctness on the hanger next to the lime green leisure suit. And gratuitous political uncorrectness right beside it.
- Serial killers. Hammett gave murder back to the people who commit it for a reason, remember? Serial killer stories are too often just cozies with more blood and less tea.
If the above hasn't scared you away, and you still want to submit your fiction to us, please check out our Submission Guidelines.
Oh, and one other thing: there are always exceptions. If you can make it work, if it suits your story, if you can break the rules and get away with it, then forget everything we just said.
Just ask yourself -- why is this plot device in here? Does it fit the story, or does it just fit what people expect from the genre? It's your story -- you should know. If you're too worried about any or all of the above, maybe you should be.
But, as acclaimed novelist (and sometime crime writer) Josef Skvorecky said in the March 10, 2001 National Post, when asked about what he considered the most over-used plot device, "There are no over-used devices. There are only bad and good writers."
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