Friday, February 26, 2010

Are Crime Fiction Cliches Comforting?

Are Crime Fiction Clichés Comforting?

By: Brooklyn White

We’re all guilty of using them once in a while or more often too; in fact, clichés are a constant weapon in any writer’s arsenal. The problem with using them however is that you have to be careful not to rub your readers the wrong way – one too many of them and they’re bound to label your writing a bundle of clichés that has no originality at all. Crime writing is an especially difficult genre when it comes to avoiding clichés; it’s so full of authors who exploit them and use them even without realizing they’re doing so, and very often, they continue to enjoy success even though they resort to clichés.

But clichés are not all bad; actually, they can be quite comforting and even necessary at times, like when:

• Readers are comfortable with a certain style of writing: I hardly ever read new authors unless I’m forced to do so because I have nothing else to read. That is when I explore new options and select one person whose writing suits my taste in books. In the course of this process, I’ve found that I gravitate to a certain kind of books, those that are written in a style similar to my favourite authors. Now these new books may not have the same clichés as the old ones, but the situations are similar, as is the method of solving the crime. Come to think of it, all of us choose what we’re comfortable with when it comes to change. So when clichés cause déjà vu, they may not be all that bad.

• You have the same protagonist in all your books: If your hero is the same person (or team) in all your books, you’re bound to use clichés more often than not. Take the Perry Mason books written by Earl Stanley Gardner – Perry Mason, Della Street and Paul Drake are recurring characters, and almost every book features a case which is seemingly unwinnable at first glance, but which Mason solves with his usual ingenuity and quick wits when there are hardly any options left or time remaining. But you put up with the clichés because you know that Mason’s sense of deduction more than makes up for the rest of the banal stuff.

• You’re writing a spoof: Any self-respecting spoof (it may not respect other books, but it sure does respect itself) must be full of clichés so that readers know it is a spoof from the word go. So you’re forgiven for using them, or rather, if you don’t use them, you’re not likely to be forgiven.
So if you feel the clichés flowing from your fingers onto your screen, don’t worry too much. Just eliminate the ones that seem too obvious when you’re doing your edit and keep the rest as part of your artistic license.

This guest post is contributed by Brooklyn White, who writes on the topic of Forensic Science Technician Schools . She can be reached at

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Why I Write Mysteries - Phyllis Smallman

Editor's Note: Welcome to Phyllis Smallman for today's 'Why I Write Mysteries' Column. Harriet Klausner, one of's premier reviewers, says about Sherri Travis, Smallman's sleuth, in Margarita Nights: "She makes the tale fun with her sass, spunk and spitfire sleuthing. " Enjoy!

Why I Write Mysteries.

Phyllis Smallman

When I was asked why I write mysteries it didn’t take me long to come up with a dozen solid reasons. To start with, writing is the most fun you can have with your clothes on and mysteries are the most popular form of fiction in the world. But more than that, I love mysteries, love to read them and love to write them.

The often reluctant and unprepared hero or heroine goes on a quest - often a life and death struggle, taking us with them on an epic adventure to right wrongs, to see justice done or to discover truth.

These stories of crime explore the dark side of human nature; greed, anger, jealousy and even love when it’s beyond control. All of these emotions are at the heart of a good mystery. Cautionary tales, they tell us what happens when our emotions get out of control.

Mysteries hold up a mirror to society, showing it without its make-up on, revealing all its warts. Mental illness, drugs, and the social problems we all have to deal with in our neighborhoods, workplaces and yes, even our families, are examined. We see how ordinary people deal with extraordinary circumstances, how they cope with what life sends them. And all this wrapped up in a puzzle.

Stories about crimes spot-light our fears. Each of us feels as vulnerable to crime as we do to disease. All those little security signs in flower beds are the new crosses over doors to tell misfortune to move on.

And how many of us think human beings are becoming less moral and more violent? Remember the first crime stories appear in the bible. Cain murdering Able, Joseph being sold into slavery, the bible is full of tales of theft and murder and even tales of the slaughter of babies. And you think identity theft is new? Think of Jacob stealing Esau’s birthright.

Human nature flows through crime books, entertaining us, frightening us and even educating us. That’s why I love a mystery! I have a new one out in March, A BREWSKI FOR THE OLD MAN. Holding your brand new book in your hands, well, it doesn’t get any better than that.

Phyllis Smallman