most difficult genre to write

Read this interview of STEPHEN KING in the Sunday Book Review of the New York Times. On being asked: Of all the genres you write in, which is the most difficult?, King answered: The most difficult by far (at least for me) is the novel of mystery. ... I just can't fathom how people like Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Peter Robinson and Ruth Rendell are able to do this in book after book.

What are your thoughts on this? And who has read novels of Peter Robinson and Ruth Rendell?


  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom
    I have tried to read a book by Ruth Rendell, her Short stories are better to read.
  • shanashana Paramaribo, Suriname
    Ok, @Tommy_A_Jones, I never heard of either Robinson or Rendell. But I observed that King puts them in the company of AC and Dorothy Sayers. I wondered if they were also that good.
  • I don't know about the other writers, Shana and Tommy, but this is how I think AC does it.  I think that AC finds an idea for a plot - eg, in Taken at the Flood - a case of SPOILER ALERT - someone dying in a bomb attack and someone assuming their identity I think events in her life, like the war, must have suggested such a plot. In other instances, a lot of her plots are about someone not being who they claim. A good few plots are based around a classic sociopath type. At other times, as in Death on the Nile, I think it has been meeting a certain type, eg Linnet Ridgeway, who fascinates her. She builds a story around a character. (A lot of stories are convincing because the psychology is right - eg The Moving Finger) I think another recurring theme is making a murder look like it is the work of a mass murderer - or for some other cause - to hide the motive and keep the killer safe (ABC Murders and The Moving Finger). I think these are the base ingredients she starts with, and then she decides how to tell the story, getting it to fit the facts, always seeing what we readers will be seeing, and working out how to balance her clues and inferences so that it could be three or four people who did it.

    I do think that AC must have spent a lot of time with her eyes open, in life, looking for items which could be a weapon in disguise (eg the short story about the dressmaker) , or some object that a killer could hide something in. Then she'd use that idea.

    I think that a classic AC approach is to tell the story through the vehicle of lots of police interviews, so you meet one character, then another, then another, each time finding something additional suspicious about them. (Nb, Evil Under the Sun and Mrs McGinty's Dead) Doing it this way takes care of quite a lot of chapters. When you read an AC book, you often look and see that you are three quarters of the way through and all you've done is to meet people in the interview room. The action and denouement happens rapidly, afterwards, and you think it is going to be someone else, because Poirot often pretends it is, and then the real killer comes up all at once.

    I think that in the better novels the characters are well-intertwined so the novel isn't so linear  (Death on the Nile, Murder at the Vicarage), Also, it's richer when you have another character who is acting as a sort of sleuth, gathering clues and coming up with ideas for Poirot to play with. What is very exciting about The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is the trick played on the reader, and the fact that the murderer seems to change, so the one that AC seems to have been thinking of isn't the one by the end. Last of all, I think she must go back and put in little false leads - someone seeming to say something, but if you look closely it could be innocent.

  • AnubisAnubis Ontario, Canada
    Peter Robinson is a popular British-born Canadian writer who has written many mysteries — set in England — of the type that I would call "police procedurals". Ruth Rendell died recently, after a long, illustrious career. Under her own name, she wrote a popular series of mysteries featuring the avuncular Inspector Wexford. Under the name Barbara Vine, she wrote numerous crime stories that aren't traditional mysteries, but are more psychological in nature that try to "get under the skin" as it were, of the criminal. 
    I think all writing is hard to do. First, there is the sheer physical effort of writing the manuscript, and the mental discipline and focus required. And then the rewriting. But when it comes to the question of whether one genre is more difficult than other, I think it depends on the author. P.G. Wodehouse wrote many dozens of hysterically funny novels. And George Simenon wrote hundreds of mysteries. But I suspect Wodehouse would have found it hard to write mysteries and Simenon would have trouble writing humour. 
  • shanashana Paramaribo, Suriname
    Wow, @Griselda, my compliments! You have really got AC's workmethod thought out. Of course, we all know AC claimed to get her ideas while doing the dishes. But a lot of what you describe makes sense.

    @Anubis, thx for the info. What you're actually saying is every writer has got some genre he/she is good at, so writing those kind of stories is relatively easy for them.

    But what I like to know from those who have read their work: do you think SK mentioning Robinson and Rendell alongside AC is justified and why?
  • shanashana Paramaribo, Suriname
    Because if they are that good I have got some new titles to try out.
  • Tommy_A_JonesTommy_A_Jones Gloucestershire, United Kingdom

    I should think it differed how AC came up with Ideas, I know real life events made her right The Mirror Crack'd and Murder On The Orient Express but she once was staying in a Hotel and saw an elderly man and 3 other people at another table, she quickly checked out so that she couldn't be influenced by how they really were and she wrote The Body In The Library as a result,

    The Adaptations of Peter Robinson's Books have made me not want to read them.

  • shanashana Paramaribo, Suriname
    One way or the other real life always provides the material for authors, I think.

    Adaptations can differ from what was originally written.
  • Thank you Shana. I think that reading a number of Christie's back to back, and possibly when you re-read them so are not engrossed in solving the who-dunnit, you see a pattern.

    I guess that AC, belonging as she did to the early 20th century, was familiar with the novel format. She would have grown up couched in its forms and conventions. She probably envisaged a story in writing, on the page. Younger writers would have had a different training; in some cases,  it would have come more naturally to them to think of a cinematic version of their story, or a play. 

    I think the short story must be very difficult. There is hardly sufficient time to unravel a mystery. Many modern short stories I read - not necessarily mystery - are not really stories at all, more a description of a person: there is no problem/solution, or hardly a convincing one. I take my hat of to AC for actually getting brilliant mysteries into her short stories - and fantastic character studies.
  • AnubisAnubis Ontario, Canada
    Ruth Rendell was awarded a life peerage for her services to literature, so obviously she was greatly respected as a writer. Her books are not much like those of AC. They tend to be more about the psychological reasons for committing a crime and the consequences of doing so, than they are about solving a puzzle. They tend to be quite realistic. I like her Inspector Wexford books, but less so the Barbara Vine novels.
  • shanashana Paramaribo, Suriname
    Ok, good to know Anubis.So in her case, the mystery is about the why not the who.
  • tudestudes Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    I suppose Stephen King is right. I think tou have to establish the murder itself, the murderer, how the murder was committed, the clues, the red herrings, the characters, including the victim before writting. I think one should  start writting by the end and one should pay a lot of attention on the details, because there's a good change to forget or make a mistake that will compromise the story. I think it's so many things to deal with that I believe it's the most difficult genre to write. It's not just inspiration, it takes a lot of hard work (and I would like to say that the others genres are easy).
  • AnubisAnubis Ontario, Canada
    Mystery stories often do involve these intricate steps, although I know there are some authors who just "start" without any planning. But I don't know if I would agree that all other genres are easy. Good literary humour is extremely difficult to write. I expect that a lot of planning goes into most books. But I think you could make a case for the notion that in comparison to mysteries that other genres are not as difficult, or easier. 
  • tudestudes Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
    edited July 2015
    @Anubis, my bad. 
    I made a mistake when I was typing. What I was trying to say is that I don't think the others genres are easy. They are not easy!
    I just think the mystery is the most difficult to write.At least, in my opinion.
     I think to be a writer (any kind) is a very though work!
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