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Murder magnet

As a consumer and producer of adventure and mystery stories, there's a certain trope that always gets on my nerves. When you're doing case-based storytelling, when "working a case" provides the climactic structure, there needs to be some mechanism to bring the affair to the detective figure's attention. There's a certain way of handling that which really makes me roll my eyes-- the one where too many of the mysteries arise because the detective just stumbles over them, usually because someone within their life sphere is the victim.

I know why so many writers use this. By making the victims of the crime at hand have some connection to the detective, the writer is able to crank the stakes up by means of the detective's personal investment. It's an easy way to create more interest in the case, by leveraging the interest the audience already has in the leads.

This annoys me for several reasons. First, I think it involves too much coincidence. How many investigation-worthy crimes can one person possibly have happen in their greater circle of acquaintance? It's just not believable that intriguing mysteries just fall into their laps by happenstance all the time. And when the typical crime the detective tackles is murder, it becomes even more absurd. What is causing this ridiculously high murder rate? Is the detective just a death magnet, with every person even peripherally linked to them suddenly likely to meet a grisly premature end? Nobody would associate with that character or that character's friends for fear for their life!

In my own work, I try to stay aware of this. The Mrs. Hawking stories work under a case system, but I mostly have clients come to her with their problems for her to solve. She may occasionally stumble over something, or go seeking it out, but it must be used sparingly. And I have to be extra careful if anything happens to people the leads know. That will properly utilize the impact of a case with personal connection to the heroes without wearing out the trope and pushing it past the bounds of believability.

Posts from This Journal by “writing” Tag


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Feb. 11th, 2016 05:36 pm (UTC)
Well, she was just built off of Agatha Christie's models, but yeah, great example of the problem.
Feb. 10th, 2016 11:45 pm (UTC)
Ooh, I like where you're going with this.

One possibility to resolve this is that people who are more likely to be murdered are more likely to socialize with detectives, and vice versa. For example, a police detective probably knows a lot of the local informants and criminals, who are especially at risk of getting killed. In a community with frequent vendettas, the detective may get to know family members of crime victims, who may later be killed themselves.
Feb. 15th, 2016 07:25 am (UTC)
It's a pet peeve of mine, too. I had to stop reading Patricia Cornwall in part because of this.

One of the things I enjoyed about the show Witchblade was that it managed to lampshade this sort of thing by explicitly stating that part of the effects of the main character's transformation was that everything in her life took on meaning, nothing was coincidence. Which, if you're going to do that, at least they gave a reason for it.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

About Me

My name is Phoebe. I'm Boston area theater professional and English professor focused in writing, acting, directing, and modeling. I'm known for having lots of interests, lots of opinions about those interests, and a very high estimation of the value thereof. This blog is for talking about whatever's on my mind, from my daily life to my activities to musing on any number of abstract topics. Thanks for taking the time to read.

My productions:

Upcoming Productions:

MRS. HAWKING part 2 and 3

at the Watch City Steampunk Festival 2016

presented by The Chameleon's Dish

Vivat Regina
by Phoebe Roberts

at 2PM


Base Instruments
by Phoebe Roberts

at 6PM

Saturday, May 13th 2017
at 274 Moody Street, Waltham, MA

Other Achievements:

"The Tailor at Loring's End" screenplay
Quarter Finalist in the Final Draft Big Break Screenwriting Competition 2013

"Adonis" screenplay
Top Ten Percent in the Bluecat Screenwriting Contest 2015

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April 2017


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