What I learned from Agatha Christie!

What I Learned from Agatha Christie!

By Leo N. Ardo

Ashley a charming young lady on Google+ introduced me to Agatha Christie. I knew little about Agatha Christie except that she was the queen of modern mysteries. Ashley proclaimed Agatha as her favorite author. She listed several books, but recommended And Then There Were None as a good choice for a newbie like me.

Being a writer I read the book for its entertainment value, and evaluated the writing style. Agatha Christie has sold more books than anyone except Shakespeare and the Bible. I thought this was a good opportunity to improve my writing by analyzing the writing style.

My first discovery was the abundant use of the word ‘said’ and ‘asked’. Being a rookie writer, I was shocked. Here are the results of a random five-page sampling from the book:

“said” only                                         61%                … ,” he said.

“said” with a single modifier           36%                … ,” he said gently.

substitute word for “said”               03%                … ,” he murmured.

Other writers have provided cheat sheets with 400+ ways to say ‘said’. The sheets were created to add variety and make the writing more interesting. Based on feedback from proofreaders, writing groups, and class instructors: Agatha Christie has broken one of the writing rules—avoid using the same word repeatedly.

But, “It works!”

Recently, a good friend pointed out how this simple technique should be used by authors to keep the action in the sentence and avoid it spilling into the attributive. She also endorsed the use of ‘said’ and ‘asked’ exclusively with the occasional modifier, or substitute.

Dialog was ninety percent of the book. This was the second discovery. It came after reading “he said”, “she said”, “he asked”, or “she asked” about twenty times.

She’s a clever lady that Agatha Christie. She chose a writing style that took longer to tell the story leaving the reader more time to ponder the ending. In the conversations she sprinkled clues, exposed character flaws, kept the action moving, had the reader guessing, and nudged the suspense up another notch on every page.

And Then There Were None is an entertaining and engaging book. It is a book all mystery fans should read. As there are ten characters and ten murders, it is probably okay to provide one clue—The butler didn’t do it.

“Ashley, good choice!” I said.

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Hoping life blesses you with good stories!

                                                 Leo N. Ardo

As a young boy, I can recall sitting with my father at the local gas station listening to the stories, and thinking what a wonderful life. In reflection, we had everything that mattered: good friends, comfortable life, sense of community, and good stories.

Now I am a thirty-five year veteran of small business, and author of the Jon Hersey – Industrial Spy series. Jon Hersey, the hero, battles terrorism on American soil. He must be a ghost to accomplish the goals of the secretive Zeta Consulting.

I write for a couple purposes, 25% of Jon Hersey – Industrial Spy series profits go to Parkinson’s disease research and education, and writing is on the bucket list. Several short stories can be found at the blog listed below.

Another passion is photography, which I find to be similar to writing. A photograph tells a story—1000 words worth, and can tell a different story to each of us. Like an author, the photographer has to make judgment calls when framing—what to include, and what to eliminate. Altering the position of the camera changes the exposure and may reveal flaws, much like a writer’s pen enlightens the reader by revealing character flaws.

When the world is closing in I pack up the fly-fishing gear. Fly-fishing has a required calming rhythm to cast a fly where it needs to land.

Saved for the happy ending: luck has blessed me with the girl in my dreams. We enjoy family, movies, travel, reading, golf, and biking. We call Utah and Wyoming home to be near our families.

Leo

Visit the website www.LeonardoStories.com

Blog: LeonardoStories.wordpress.com

Like us at Facebook.com/TheLeonardoStories

Follow us on Twitter @LeonardoStories

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2 thoughts on “What I learned from Agatha Christie!

  1. Interesting! I am one of those writers who is on the fence about “said.” I use it but sparingly. I know some writers in my writers group shun it completely. I can’t wait to share this tidbit with them.

    • I have heard both sides of the “said” debate. I decided to go with what feels right for the story. Just finished Jack M. Bickham’s book The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes and his recommendation is to use “said” about 90% of the time (page 54).

      “Maybe I should have started a new career in something with clearer rules, like golf,” he said. His laughter could be heard upstairs.

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