Every writer is different when it comes to his or her own writing style. The same goes with the way they worked. The way Agatha Christie worked--her Modus Operandi--suited her just fine.
Who influenced her as a writer? Where did she get her plot ideas from? How did Agatha write? What were her methods? We attempt to answer these questions here. One thing: it is well known
that Agatha didn't enjoy public gatherings and never felt comfortable giving interviews. She once said, "Writing is a great comfort to people like me, who are unsure of themselves and have
trouble expressing themselves properly." Much of what is said by Christie herself on the writing process comes from her autobiography. Many know, however, that she doesn't focus much on her
actual writing and stories in her autobiography.
Agatha's mother read to her many books in her childhood. These authors included Sir Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, John Milton, Alexandre Dumas, and Jane Austen. Christie had said once that
her favorite author of all was Charles Dickens, and particularly enjoyed Dickens' Bleak House the most. Agatha and her sister Madge also enjoyed reading detective stories. Agatha
was introduced to the character of Sherlock Holmes when she was eight. They read anything that was detective fiction which included the character of Arsene Lupin. She told her sister Madge
that she thought she could write a detective story (to which Madge replied "I bet you couldn't") after they had finished reading The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Le Roux.
Agatha said in her biography that it was then that "the seed had been sown" and that she "was fired by the determination" to write a detective story.
Christie acknowledged the fact that new writers cannot refrain from copying the writing style of another writer, when they are "in the throes of admiration" of that writer. If that style is
adopted, she says, you end up writing badly because it's simply not your own style. She said one is less influenced by admiration in time, but one should also realize that it's necessary to
create a personal writing style. Because even then, Christie says, you know you can't write just like your favorite authors. She says, "I have learnt that I am me, that I can
do the things . . . me can do."
Plots & Plans
Getting started was frankly difficult for Christie. She said "there is no agony like it. You sit in a room, biting pencils, looking at a typewriter, walking about, or casting yourself down
on a sofa, feeling you want to cry your head off." What she would do is interrupt someone, like her husband Max. They would always have the same conversation. She'd say: "I simply can't do it
any more!" Max would reply: "Oh yes, you will." Agatha responds with, "I can't think of an idea. I had an idea, but now it seems no good." Max always would say to that: "You've had all this
before. You said it last year. You said it the year before."
"Plots come to me at such odd moments", Agatha once said. She could've been anywhere and receive inspiration for a plot. She had an exercise book to write these ideas down. She'd write
ideas also on drugs or poisons, or if she read something about a crime in the paper, she'd jot that down, too. Her notebooks were organized with labels and the ideas were filed according to
subject. She says this about the notebooks she kept: "it is a pleasure sometimes, when looking vaguely through a pile of old notebooks . . . with a kind of sketch of a plot." For more about
Agatha's process of creating and plotting her stories, see John Curran's books on Agatha's notebooks (Agatha Christie's Secret Notebooks and Agatha Christie: Murder in the Making).
Some plots she thought up would really tease her mind. She would dwell upon them until the time was ready. Such was the case for The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. It played over and
over in her mind, all the while adjusting the details of the plot. Christie said she got a similar feeling with Lord Edgware Dies; the plot came to her mind as she attended a show
of the impersonator Ruth Draper.
Characters for her books came in the same manner as the plots. Agatha said one must create characters for himself/herself. She says she'd be able to spot somebody near her--say, at a
restaurant. That would be a starting point of creating the character, for then "you can make up something for yourself about them." As for "real" characters, she admitted that she had done
that once. Major Ernest Belcher was an ex-schoolmaster and also employer of Archie Christie's (Agatha's first husband). He had asked Agatha to put him in a novel, which eventually became
The Man in the Brown Suit, with his home as the setting for the murder. She balked at that suggestion. She said to him, "I don't think I could put you in it. I can't do anything with
real people. I have to imagine them." She said that Belcher the man wasn't in the book, although the character Pedler (based on Belcher) had some of his mannerisms or phrases. Agatha said
including Belcher in the book was "the only time I have tried to put a real person whom I knew well into a book, and I don't think it succeeded."
She had placed a few other "real" people in her books: herself as the mystery writer Ariadne Oliver, Lady Nancy Astor (the first woman to serve as a Member of Parliament) as Lady
Westholme (Appointment with Death), and Katharine Woolley (the wife of Dr. Leonard Woolley, an archaeologist who worked with Max Mallowan--Agatha's second husband) appeared in the
form of Mrs. Leidner in Murder in Mesopotamia.
In her autobiography, Christie said that what is great about writing detective stories is that there are many types. She said they can be the detective story with passion, the intricate
detective story written technically sound, and the light-hearted thriller. In regards to the detective story with passion, she says that type of passion is "to help save innocence. Because it
is innocence that matters, not guilt." She says that it scares her that people don't worry about the innocent. She thinks that too many people are concerned about the perpetrator of the crime.
When she started writing detective fiction, she admitted that she didn't think seriously about crime in general. About early detective fiction, she said this: "the detective story was the
story of the chase; it was also very much a story with a moral", but detective writers "had not then begun to wallow in psychology." The technical kind of detective story would be like
And Then There Were None. She said she wrote this because "the idea had fascinated me." She admitted it was difficult work; with so many deaths, she didn't want it silly, and she
didn't want the murderer obvious. She said, "I wrote the book after a tremendous amount of planning, and I was pleased with what I had made of it. It was clear, straightforward, baffling, and
yet had a perfectly reasonable explanation." She was very pleased with the end result, "for [she] knew better than any critic how difficult it had been."
It was just mentioned that Christie didn't "think seriously about crime." However, she did say that after "writing crime books one gets interested in the study of criminology." She especially
interested herself in those books written by people who had been in contact with criminals, especially in the purpose of reforming them.
Early on, Agatha would resort to her secretary Charlotte Fisher's resourcefulness and willingness. Agatha would describe the writing process of her novels thus: "Charlotte and I sat down
opposite each other, she with her notebook and pencil. I stared unhappily at the mantelpiece, and began uttering a few tentative sentences. They sounded dreadful. I could not say more than a
word without hesitating and stopping. Nothing I said sounded natural. We persisted for an hour. Long afterwards Carlo told me that she herself had been dreading the moment when literary work
should begin." Christie said after they experimented with this new process (for Carlo Fisher was with Christie a short time), she felt much better writing in longhand or by typing. You see,
Christie said that by writing longhand or typing words down, it helped her stay on the right track, keeping to the point. In detective stories, she said, there has to be an "economy of wording."
In those kind of stories, she always felt that the book would be ruined if the same thing was repeated four times over and over again. She said, for example, if you're using a dictaphone, there's
a temptation to repeat the same thing again and again in different wording. She had to use a dictaphone years later when she at one time broke her right (writing) wrist. She found soon enough
that the main problem with using such a machine is "that it encourages you to be much too verbose." She said she hesitated using the machine; she said, "It is odd how hearing your own voice
makes you self-conscious and unable to express yourself."
When an interviewer was visiting Agatha at her home, he or she would ask "Show me where you write your books." That was difficult for her to answer, because she actually wrote anywhere. She
wrote on the dining room table, on a washstand, and any other place in the home. She did require a sturdy table and a typewriter when she was ready (she used to write the opening chapters by
hand before typing them onto paper). She wrote "in spells and bursts", but never had a place or a room to call her own (until her home in Sheffield Terrace in London).
Agatha wrote many of her books while accompanying her archaeologist husband Max. She wrote Lord Edgware Dies on a dig in Nineveh in northern Iraq. She said she could write anywhere,
but as long as she had a sturdy table. Well, the house she stayed in lacked a table and orange boxes, she said, would simply not do. The head of the Nineveh dig, Reginald Campbell Thompson,
denied her request of purchasing a table (which she was going to buy with her money anyway!). She wrote this in her autobiography of the conversation with Dr. Campbell Thompson: "Writing books,
I pointed out, was my work, and I had to have certain tools for it: a typewriter, a pencil, and a table at which I could sit."
Our Queen of Crime wrote one book in 3 days flat, the Mary Westmacott romance novel Absent in the Spring. Christie described this book as "the one book that has satisfied me
completely . . . [A] book that I had always wanted to write, that had been clear in my mind." She said it felt odd having that particular book inside her mind, perhaps because it was
germinating for six or seven years. She said the book was already there in her mind, but it was waiting and then--"suddenly, one gets a clear and sudden command: Now!" She admitted that
for this particular novel, she was afraid of any interruption, something to cease the creative flow. She wrote the first and last chapters first, because "I knew so clearly where I was going
that I felt I must get it down on paper."
Agatha also enjoyed writing two books at once. She said that the problem with "writing a book is that it suddenly goes stale on you." She thought she would try that, thinking that if she
alternated between two books, she'd stay "fresh at the task." Those two books were the Marple story The Body in the Library and the other was N or M?, a Tommy and Tuppence
Beresford adventure. At this time, 1941, obviously WWII was going on. She also said she never had difficulty writing during the war. She would just shut off everything outside her mind, and
place herself into her own novels, mingle with the characters and "mutter their conversations and see them striding about the room I had invented for them."