Tag Archives: structure

Do Ronald Knox’s 1929 Rules on Detective Fiction Still Hold Up in 2020?

(With May Of Mystery right around the corner, I’ve decided to repost this article for last year. Enjoy!)

Hello my amateur sleuths!

Did you know that one famous author actually wrote rules for writing detective stories in the 1920’s?

Ronald Knox was a prominent figure in the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. As a mystery loving priest, he published the Ten Commandments on Detective Fiction. Are the rules still relevant or outdated? Let’s investigate, shall we?

1.The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.

True enough. If the author introduces the real killer towards the end, readers will feel cheated. How can they suspect a character that came out of nowhere? The criminal needs to be introduced within the first couple chapters of the story. Also, the audience, usually, isn’t allowed to enter the thoughts of the murderer. Their inner workings should remain unknown to the audience, until the very end.

2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.

Now, I disagree with this one, just a smidge. If done right, multiple genres can be featured in a single story. Maybe a sprinkle of supernatural could work in a murder mystery. It’s all about balance. As long as the integrity of the whodunit remains solid, other genres can join in. A little fantasy and magic never killed nobody.

3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.

I mean, he has a point. A second secret passage won’t garner as much surprise as the first secret passage. One hidden room is enough. Don’t push your luck.

4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.

Fair enough, Mr. Knox. Basically, this rule applies to all made up devices. Hard to acquire poisons from foreign lands or complex inventions are far too unlikely plotwise. Using an unusual method cheats the readers from unraveling the mystery themselves. Remember, detective fiction is meant to challenge the reader mentally, like a puzzle.

5. No Chinaman must figure in the story.

No, we’re not talking about those of Chinese descent. The term ‘Chinamen’ refers to evil mastermind character, maniacal laugh included. Antagonists need real motives. Their reason for committing a crime must be plausible. No sinister villains are welcome in a detective story.

6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

Frankly, this rule reminds me of those classic Scooby Doo cartoon, where clues fall into their laps. As tempting as it sounds, coincidences, chance happenings and bizarre hunches are just too easy. Every clue must be discovered on purpose, with purpose. Don’t just hand over clues on a silver platter. Make your detective, and the reader, work for every scrap of information.

7. The detective must not himself commit the crime.

Where’s the fun in that? Listen to Knox, it’d be a disaster to have the detective be the culprit. Plus, you’re killing any chance for a sequel. No pun intended.

8. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.

For fairness, the detective and the reader must have equal opportunity to solve the case. However, the sleuth can keep some less obvious clues to himself. Just collecting the insignificant clues in his/her pocket until the big reveal. The reader knows every hint, but just isn’t sure how important each piece of information is.

9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.

I object to this one. Although he wasn’t smarter than Holmes, I wouldn’t consider Watson an idiot. Seriously, Watson could pull his own weight. The sidekick can have brains too. Heck, they may even become as asset for a detective during an investigation. Instead of being slightly below the reader’s intelligence, why can’t a sidekick’s intelligence be slightly below the detective’s brainpower?

10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

See, I feel like nowadays, audiences are thrilled by surprise doubles. Not all doubles or twin need a heads up in advance. (Side note: Have you guys been watching Cloak and Dagger? Talk about shocking doubles.)


Yes, all of these “commandments” have been broken in detective fiction before. However, some of these rules are still relevant by today’s standards. Murder mysteries are complicated games, whether you choose to take note of the rules or break them is up to you. You’re the writer.

What do you guys think of Knox’s rules from 1929? Do you think they still hold up to today’s whodunits? Let me know in the comments.

Write with Heart,

Lady Jabberwocky

Do Ronald Knox’s 1929 Rules on Detective Fiction Still Hold Up in 2019?

Hello my amateur sleuths!

Today, we are breaking down the fundamentals of mystery writing. Did you know that an author actually wrote rules for writing detective stories in the 1920’s?

Ronald Knox was a prominent figure in the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. As a mystery loving priest, he published the Ten Commandments on Detective Fiction. Are the rules still relevant or outdated? Let’s investigate, shall we?

1.The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.

True enough. If the author introduces the real killer towards the end, readers will feel cheated. How can they suspect a character that came out of nowhere? The criminal needs to be introduced within the first couple chapters of the story. Also, the audience, usually, isn’t allowed to enter the thoughts of the murderer. Their inner workings should remain unknown to the audience, until the very end.

2. All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.

Now, I disagree with this one, just a smidge. If done right, multiple genres can be featured in a single story. Maybe a sprinkle of supernatural could work in a murder mystery. It’s all about balance. As long as the integrity of the whodunit remains solid, other genres can join in. A little fantasy and magic never killed nobody.

3. Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.

I mean, he has a point. A second secret passage won’t garner as much surprise as the first secret passage. One hidden room is enough. Don’t push your luck.

4. No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.

Fair enough, Mr. Knox. Basically, this rule applies to all made up devices. Hard to acquire poisons from foreign lands or complex inventions are far too unlikely and far too easy. Using an unusual method cheats the readers from unraveling the mystery themselves. Remember, detective fiction is meant to challenge the reader mentally, like a puzzle.

5. No Chinaman must figure in the story.

No, we’re not talking about those of Chinese descent. The term ‘Chinamen’ refers to evil mastermind character, maniacal laugh included. Antagonists need real motives. Their reason for committing a crime must be plausible. No sinister villains are welcome in a detective story. This is a battle wits we are talking about.

6. No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

Frankly, this rule reminds me of those classic Scooby Doo cartoon, where clues fall into their laps. As tempting as it sounds, coincidences, chance happenings and bizarre hunches are just too easy. Every clue must be discovered on purpose, with purpose. Don’t just hand over clues on a silver platter. Make your detective, and the reader, work for every scrap of information.

7. The detective must not himself commit the crime.

Where’s the fun in that? Listen to Knox, it’d be a disaster to have the detective be the culprit. Plus, you’re killing any chance for a sequel. No pun intended.

8. The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader.

For fairness, the detective and the reader must have equal opportunity to solve the case. However, the sleuth can keep some less obvious clues to himself. Just collecting the insignificant clues in his/her pocket until the big reveal, the parlor room scene. The reader knows every hint, but just isn’t sure how important each piece of information is.

9. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader.

I object to this one. Although he wasn’t smarter than Holmes, I wouldn’t consider Watson an idiot. Seriously, Watson could pull his own weight. The sidekick can have brains too. Heck, they may even become as asset for a detective during an investigation. Instead of being slightly below the reader’s intelligence, why can’t a sidekick’s intelligence be slightly below the detective’s brainpower?

10. Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

See, I feel like nowadays, audiences are thrilled by surprise doubles. Not all doubles or twin need a heads up in advance. (Side note: Have you guys been watching Cloak and Dagger? Talk about shocking doubles.)


Yes, all of these “commandments” have been broken in detective fiction before. However, some of these rules are still relevant by today’s standards. Murder mysteries are complicated games, whether you choose to take note of the rules or break them is up to you. You’re the writer.

What do you guys think of Knox’s rules from 1929? Do you think they still hold up to today’s whodunits? Let me know in the comments.

Write with Heart,

Lady Jabberwocky

5 Types of Narrators in Story Writing – Breaking Down the Basics

Hello Writer Bugs!

Today, we are going back to basics in story writing. What point of view is best for your WIP? Let’s break down the different kinds of narrators in a story.

(Psst! Don’t forget to check out that Patreon page! Keep this party going! )

First Person Narrator

Pronouns: I, my, me.

Example: The Narrator from Moby Dick. ” Call me Ishmael.”

First Person is a very personal perspective. The reader has a front row seat to this character’s feelings, thoughts and experience in the world. This can be either a main character or a distant observer. By using the first person narrative, it puts a limit to what the narrator, and the reader, knows and doesn’t know. This kind of narrator cannot know

Second Person Narrator

Pronouns: You, Your.

A Second Person Narrator talks directly to the audience, enveloping the reader into the story itself. Think of it like playing a choose your own adventure game, where the reader is a character. “You do this, you see that.” This one is quite rare in fiction; It’s more for technical writing. It’s difficult to perfect, but not impossible, so don’t be discouraged to experiment with this style.

Example: If I’m remembering correctly, Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern has some chapters using second person that are utterly enchanting.

Third Person Narrator (Limited)

Pronouns: He, she, they.

Another popular option that gives the writer more freedom to move around, follow multiple characters and explore multiple rooms of the house, so to speak. Usually, the third person narrator isn’t an actual character at all. It’s a more objective viewpoint, which can lead to a lack of connection with the reader. The audience is privy to more information about the plot, information the main characters may not even be aware of, but not the characters personal thoughts and feelings.

Omniscient Narrator

Usually third person. Uses ‘he, she, they’ pronouns.

With this one, the narrator knows everything, from feelings to inner thoughts. Imagine an all knowing, all seeing God-like being looking down at the world and relaying the story to the reader. Some can argue that it’s the author themselves telling the story. I’ll let you be the judge.

Unreliable Narrator

Usually first person, usually undependable.

Some narrators just can’t be trusted, can they? The viewpoint of this narrator is very biased, clouded by their own, possibly flawed judgement. Other characters in the story may not be described accurately because of the narrator’s own perception. Certain events can be skewed. Even the narrator himself could be not what he appears to be

Example: Check out the narrator from The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. He may know more about the murder than he is letting on. Wink wink.

Choose Your Narrator Wisely

Really take the time to think about whom the narrator will be and how well they can tell your/their story. It’s important for the reader to really connect and be engaged with the character or viewpoint chosen. Think of it like this, the narrator is the reader’s vehicle as they ride the rollercoaster that is your story. That makes sense right?

If you are struggling to decide which narrative you want to use, try multiple styles. No harm in experimenting. It’s like reading an essay for school out loud before handing it in. You’ll know what fits your story best when you read it.

Write with Heart,

Lady Jabberwocky

Rainy Day Editor’s Block

On this rainy and muggish day, I am plagued with Editor’s block. A similar ailment to Writer’s block. I’m working on these old stories of mine for some literary magazines I’ve been interested in submitting work to. I’m trying to make serious changes to them. Like the big kind of edits. For one story, I’m thinking of changing things like the central conflict as well as reworking characterization for most of the characters. The really integral nuts and bolts of the story. Ugh. This is where the Editor’s block comes in. It’s that slightly overwhelming and daunting feeling of “I don’t even know where to start”. It can be a stressful task.

 
So I took a break.
For both Editor’s and Writer’s block, taking a break can actually be very helpful. Just stopping for a while, walking away from the project, and collecting your thoughts is sometimes the best thing for the creative process. So that’s what I did. I took a break, had a Matzo Ball soup (courtesy of the local diner) and got comfortable (courtesy of cozy sweatpants). Pausing for a moment helped organized my ideas and really made be focus on the things that need to be focused on in my work.

 
Hopeful I write something good enough to get published this time.

 
Write with heart,
Lady Jabberwocky