Wednesday, 4 September 2013


Here is a summary of Armadale, a Victorian page-turner by Wilkie Collins:Two men are both called Allan Armadale, but one goes by the name of Midwinter. From a written deathbed confession, Midwinter knows that his father has killed the other Allan Armadale’s father. A mysterious woman, aged 35 but looking like 27, fuelled the flames that led to the murder by faking a letter. She gets away with another murder, marries Midwinter aka Armadale 2, and thus becomes Mrs. Armadale. Her plan is to kill Armadale 1, claim to be his widow and inherit his estate, and so on and so forth. The convoluted plot is full of devices that keep the reader guessing. Let's have a look at the tricks Collins uses -- would they work today?

  • Adopting a false name. Possibly, but your character will have to do more than print up a new business card. He’ll need to come up with fake ID if he wants to go to Italy or get married.
  • Letters that are lost, intercepted, or conveniently delayed. Nope. Forget about letters. Or emails. Ever tried to intercept, lose, or delay offers of Viagra? It doesn’t work.  
  • Letters dictated by dying men and kept secret for years. Nope. Look for them on Facebook before the week is out.
  • Letters in fake handwriting. Nope. You might try faking a texter’s habitual spelling mistakes though.
  • Diary entries. Nope. What’s a diary?
  • Getting away with murder by drowning or poisoning. Nope. The autopsy will tell.
  • Other convenient deaths resulting in large inheritances. You wish, but novelists today are bound by the iron rules of likelihood.
  • Chance encounters in London, or even planned encounters (if they involve secretly tracking a person arriving in London). Nope. Not unless you know the airline and flight number. But remember: no intercepted letters!
  • Chance of remarriage due to wife’s death in childbirth. Possibilities sharply reduced, but fully offset by the higher chances of divorce.
  • Thick veils to conceal identity. Nope. Unless your protagonist is Muslim and into wearing bourqas or niqabs.
  • 35-year old woman looking like 27. Yes, but with botox, fillers, and cosmetic surgery used everywhere, lying about one’s age no longer works as a plot device.
  • People keeping their mouths shut because they are ashamed or want privacy. Nope. Or let’s say, it’s going to be a hard sell. This is the age of twerking after all.
So with all the easy tricks off-limits, what is a contemporary writer to do? Move the action to Victorian times, of course.

1 comment:

  1. The dilemmas of modern authors! You nailed it! Hmm, and yet some do come up with convoluted twists and tweets ;-) teehee, etal.