David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
When Life Is Not Too Short

April 21, 2020

Even as a bibliophile, I have spent most of my life believing in the saying that "Life Is Too Short To Read A Bad Book" (or to drink cheap beer).  As a detective/mystery junkie, I have run into many cheap mysteries that give "cheap" a bad reputation. In pre-Coronavirus times, I have thrown books across the room, into the fireplace, or into the trashcan, rather than finish them.

However now that we are in Coronavirus Hell, where life seems to be dragging on endlessly, and where a trip to my local Barnes & Noble is not particularly wise, I found myself sticking with a mystery I bought off of Amazon. I hate Amazon for book buying, because I can't browse a book very easily and make decisions without knowing enough information.  (For the record, I rarely look at reviews because they can be a dime a dozen.)

So, I just finished a mystery that I refuse to name. It is clear it was self-published, but if I believe the author's bio, it is one of seven books that the author may have self-published.  I am tempted to say that all self-published authors are hacks, but then I would have to own up to my own hack-ness. I am also not rich enough to self-publish seven books. 

So even if I want to protect this writer's ego, I can still rant.  At a time when life is too long not to read anything we can find, it is also too long not to think about writing our own crap. It's really not that difficult, boys and girls:

1) Present a premise so thin that the trick ending is only tricky in that it takes so long to get there. By the 4th chapter make it really obvious where the story will end up. Because after all, your reader doesn't really want to use his or her brain.

2) Disregard basic time sequencing and chronology.  Alternate between perspectives (it's even better if you can alternate among at least four points of view, including killer and hero), but don't have the story proceed sequentially. Show your hero fall into a trap (easily predictable, because remember a smart reader is not a friend), then 30 pages later have the killer set up the trap.

3) Develop a killer with a psychological quirk that lends credence to the title (and a moniker given by the cops) but doesn't get explained in any way.  If your killer is blond or tall or unemployed, you don't really have to explain those traits, so why explain why her psychological challenges?

4) Change the killer's signature M.O. halfway through the book.  Because you can. You are God of this fictional world.

5) Make your killer both really smart, even if just in a very specific way, but then incredibly dumb in the logic that would require someone to get away with 4 or 5 murders over a period of a week or so.

6) Create a potential love triangle so void of anything substantial among three characters all apparently drop dead gorgeous that it offers nothing in light of the chaste hero at the center.

7) Make your setting so geographically bare that readers come to believe only a handful of actual locations exist.  Make Cabot Cove seem urban and realistic in terms of all of Jessica Fletcher's murder cases.

8) Make your hero too dense to even understand the most obvious of coded messages from her colleagues.

9) Provide the killer a convenient plot device to allow her to get into the hero's home, leaving not even the semblance of a necessary plan for the final denouement.

10) Resolve the killer's inner turmoil in a short flashback scene during the denouement, apparently not allowing for her own suddenly awakened awareness to make her drop her guard against two armed detectives.

There you go.  All of us can emerge from "Shelter-At-Home" as published authors.  Just don't get caught up in all that mumbo jumbo creative writing teachers have taught through the years.  After all, as they say, those that can't, teach.