The Secret Code!

. I saw a documentary about Agatha Christie. Most of it was a perfectly decent documentary, full of facts and pictures.

The rest of it, however, was some sensationalist stuff about the ‘Agatha Christie code’ – the secret code she used to make her books so popular! (The fact they’re damn good reads didn’t seem to be reason enough). This segment was set in a ‘lab’ with white coated ‘scientists’ moving around behind the presenter as he held serious conversations with people taking apart the books, word by word! (The exclaimation marks were mandatory).

I’m not quite sure what they came up with, but it seemed to be something about short chapters, and rhythm drawing readers into a sort of hypnotic trance.

I was fairly annoyed by this time. For a start, her books are genuinely good, with complex plots, and clever solutions and compellng characters – but that didn’t seem a good enough reason for people to still be reading her books. (And reading them for thousands of years yet, according to the Doctor).

And they seemed to imply that she had made a conscious decision to write in that style to entrance her readers. I don’t think that’s true. I think writers, whilst they often do create structures and plot devices, also unconsciously create a lot of the patterns in their books.

Once, I wrote a fanfiction story. Someone reviewed it, and praised the use of characters echoing each other’s language. I hadn’t actually realised I’d done it. I’d used this clever literary device, all unconscious. (Though I happily took credit for it…).

I agree we all plan our books. And we all have structures, and devices and tricks we use. But I am convinced that half of writing is subconscious – that we, all unknowing, write powerful rhythms and patterns that we are utterly unaware of. I know I do. I know I write something, and read it back, and think to myself ‘that was clever, I didn’t know I was doing that!’.

I don’t think the magic of a good piece writing can be reduced down to paragraph lengths and word usage. There’s a phrase in Dickens Christmas Carol;

“as close to it as I am now to you, and I am standing in the spirit at your elbow.”

Dickens was saying the author is always beside the reader, and I think that is the secret code of all good books. It’s a communication between author and reader on a subconscious level.


One response to “The Secret Code!

  1. Good communication can be taught, but for most of us, it is absorbed over our lives, learnt by watching what works and what doesn’t. I agree with you, writing is often the same. We read other’s work and note, often subconsciously, what makes it a good read for us.

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