Headline:Stealing from Agatha Christie
Date:Wednesday, February 12, 2020
Posted By:Plaid Hatter Games

"Good Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal" --Pablo Picasso

On my way to work this morning I was looking for a break from listening to the news. I'm the kind of person who loves to have someone to listen to. As a kid I used to go to sleep with the news radio channel on. But I'm getting a bit tired of "Plague is gonna kill us", "Political Party A is Destroying Democracy" and "Political Party B is Destroying Itself."

So I flipped open the Podcast app on my phone for the first time in a while. I was looking for some kind of writer's workshop to help with some of the character issues I'm running across. And by sheer providence I saw one called The History of Literature." Sounded interesting. So I tuned to that. And the day's episode was on Agatha Christie.

I only got partway through the podcast, as my drive is only 45 minutes, but I had gotten just past the reader feedback segment. The focus on the show was actually Agatha Christie as a person, not her work. So the expert, Gillian Gill was just giving the audience a very high-level recap of her work, and why it made an impact, so they could get to the actual meat of the show.

But that summary was fascinating to me, and made me think, as an author, how I can tailor my work to reach a wider audience. The first point that Gill made was that Christie's commercial success is partly down to how she wrote:

  • Christie's prose was complex in concept, but not complex in grammar or vocabulary.
  • Christie wrote mainly in dialog.
  • Christie's settings and relationships between characters were human-centered, not culture centered.

These three factors made her work more easily translated than other famous English Language authors.

Stylistically, Christie's work also solves a few problems I've had in developing plot. Her detective stories don't generally involve law enforcement. Or if they do, it is in the form of a bumbling inspector, or someone to take the culprit away in the end.

Christie was a fan of Arther Conan Doyle's work, so Hercule Poirot's similarity to Sherlock Holmes is more than superficial. And actually Doyle cites Edgar Allen Poe's character C. Auguste Dupin as his inspiration for Holmes. And while Poe's Dupin is undoubtedly the first detective in fiction (predating even the term "Detective"), even Poe cites stories he'd read that acted as an inspiration.

Yeah... I'm totally dropping in some sort of on-board detective.