Unwritten rule of whodunnits
March 27, 2019 1:00 AM   Subscribe

I heard ages ago a "rule" that good (or stereotypical) mysteries and crime stories always introduce the killer in the first 1/3 of the plot, otherwise the reveal is cheapened for the audience. Is this actually a written rule somewhere?

I always jokingly apply this to fictional crime shows, where "It can't be [that guy], he just showed up and we're almost done!" This usually helps narrow the suspect.

tl;dr just wondering if there is more to this idea than a one-off fact from years past, whether an author said it, or it has a TV Tropes page, etc.
posted by lesser weasel to Society & Culture (4 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Ronald Knox set out a ten rules of detective fiction during the golden age of detective novels (although he didn’t always follow them himself) and rule number one is:

The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.

There is a good episode about them on the shedunnit Podcast.
posted by halcyonday at 1:40 AM on March 27, 2019 [7 favorites]

S.S. Van Dine's 20 Rules for writing detective fiction is less prescriptive.
10. The culprit must turn out to be a person who has played a more or less prominent part in the story — that is, a person with whom the reader is familiar and in whom he takes an interest.
And Raymond Chandler, even more so.

For pulp fiction, things are a little less leisurely.
The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot
First 1500 words
3--Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.
posted by zamboni at 2:40 AM on March 27, 2019 [6 favorites]

Exactly what I was looking for, thanks all!
posted by lesser weasel at 4:06 PM on March 28, 2019

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