I will openly admit that I have been reading a horrendous amount of Agatha Christie of late (my own favorites being Evil under the Sun and Death on the Nile), and felt inspired to write a brief post about her career and what can be learned from it.
Agatha Christie was a master at her craft. No one can deny it. After all, she basically invented her style of close-house mysteries. Her stories have generated several world renowned and much loved literary figures such as the immaculate Hercule Poirot and the indomitable Miss Marple.
Her output was predominately Mystery/Crime fiction, but she did release six romance books under a pen name – even she grew a little tired of her genre- as her name became more synonymous with crime. I had better add successful playwright as well, I cannot forget The Mousetrap – the longest running play in the modern era. It has not closed since it initially opened in 1952.
She had a writing career spanning more than fifty five years and never during that time did she ‘fall out of fashion’ with her readers.
What Agatha Christie can teach authors
Fellow writers can learn a lot from people like Agatha Christie, and I am going to give three of my ‘take aways’ from her for a successful writing career below.
- Hating your Creation – It was no secret that Agatha Christie did not like her most famous character – Hercule Poirot – I think her words to describe him were “Insufferable” and “Egocentric creep”. But she kept writing him because her fans loved him, and she did not let her writing or storylines suffer because of it. She saw herself as an entertainer first, whose job was to produce what her reading public wanted – and they wanted more Poirot. Write to Entertain.
- Recycling plotlines – Agatha Christie did create the close house, all suspects (still alive) together at the reveal Crime/Mystery Genre. Basically, a murder is committed, there are multiple suspects who are all concealing secrets, and the detective gradually uncovers these secrets over the course of the story, discovering the most shocking twists towards the end. At the end, in a Christie hallmark, the detective usually gathers the surviving suspects into one room, explains the course of their deductive reasoning, and reveals the guilty party. Whether you are reading Poirot, Marple or Tommy and Tuppence, the general plotline above is used. But this plotline is a very stable, well functioning framework, which, when dressed with a well woven, tightly scripted storyline makes for a good and entertaining read. Write on a well founded Framework.
- Characters – What made Agatha Christie’s stories stand out were her characters. Agatha would take the characteristics and mannerisms from the people she saw around her (mainly from what she observed from strangers), and give them to characters in her books. It made her characters more ‘real’ and would give the reader something that they can relate to. Write your characters as real people.
Agatha Christie was a very successful and well loved writer. She has over 70 books in print and even though she died in 1976, they are still selling well which is a testament to her skill as a writer and her storytelling.