The day it all started was a bad one

Let’s kick things off with a detective story trope: first person narration. The story starts with a narrator telling you how things were the day the adventure began.

  • A first person narrative is someone telling their story from their point of view.
    I like chocolate ice cream. My sister likes vanilla.” 
  • A third person narrative is telling someone else’s story.
    Amy likes chocolate ice cream. Her sister likes vanilla.” 

In literature, a trope can be something that’s often used in a genre (like ‘once upon a time’ in fairy tales, or using a mad scientist in horror). It’s a standard and, depending on your point of view, can be a good or a bad thing.

(If a trope is so overused that it becomes a ‘definitely-bad’ thing, we call it a cliche.)

Read the start of the story.

There’s not much call for private detectives in Fulham.

The day it all started was a bad one. Business was so slack it was falling down all around us.

Often, the narrator in a detective story is the detective themselves. They’ll tell you their situation, what they think of the people and events around them, and their thinking as they collect clues. 

Other times the narrator is someone close. For The Falcon’s Malteser, the narrator is the detective’s assistant (and brother), Nick.

Three big reasons:

  • It limits the point of view. Detective stories are about trying to uncover a mystery, so it makes sense to use first person narration which puts us in the head of a character who only knows part of the picture.
  • It helps establish a voice. Because the character is telling their own story, it means the writing can have a stronger voice and personality. In detective stories, this is often a kind of tough personality with a cynical sense of humour.
  • It lets the narrator judge other characters and situations. This is good for detective stories, because the character can tell the reader what’s important, but it’s also good for comedy, because the character can make fun of everyone else (or themselves).

You can leverage these ideas you write: what does the narrator know or not know, how do they talk, and how might they find the world around them funny or absurd?

  • Follow the style and keep the narration first person. It will make it easier to complete the lessons.
  • Make your narrator the detective or the detective’s assistant. We have examples that show how both can be used.
  • Comedy writing is hard! How funny you make it is up to you. If you prefer, it’s possible to complete the lessons in this series just writing a straight detective story. Your choice.   
  • Look at the last part of the snippet: summarising how bad the situation is. The narrator uses a metaphor. You can play around with your own metaphors if you like.

The Falcon’s Malteser is set in Fulham, which tells you the story is meant to be at least partly funny. Why? Because you’ve probably never heard of Fulham. It sounds like a tiny town somewhere. Detectives are meant to be in the big mean city.

So right up front, you need to give the reader a sense of why this detective agency is broke. It could be because it’s in a weird location, or because it has a very niche specialisation.

Can you see the same pattern in these examples?

Private detectives specialising in alien activity don’t get much work, it must be said.

The day started like any other one. The world was pretty much intact and invasion-free, which meant business was terrible.

There’s no money in solving mysteries for old people.

Let’s be honest, things had been bad before this whole affair even started. Business was in the toilet.

Write your own variation.