Sunday, December 19, 2010

What I Learned from Nancy Drew: Intro

A few days ago, in a bout of nostalgia, I decided to revisit a childhood friend. Its been over 35 years since I cracked open a Nancy Drew mystery.

Despite everything I'm about to say, I'm a great fan of the series. As a kid I wanted to be just like Nancy. She is an iconic heroine of the American girl, and her adventures are a fun read. Begun only 8 years after women achieved the right to vote, Nancy is smart, fiesty and an awesome role-model for young girls.

The writing however (at least the first few books) is rather bad. As a writer, I think it's important to read as much as possible.  And sometimes you can learn more from a badly written book than a well crafted tale.
So in the next few articles I'll discuss some of the facets of this particularly fine example of amateurish writing.

My apologies to "Carolyn Keene" and her ghostwriters. Nancy Drew was the brainchild of writer/editor Edward Stratemeyer who created the Hardy Boys and the Bobsey Twins among others.  The first ghostwriter hired to write Nancy Drew was Mildred A. Wirt Benson, who wrote 23 of the first 30 books. The craft of writing has no doubt grown over the past 80 years since the first Nancy Drew mystery was published.

Surrounded as we are by excellent tutorials on good writing, its easy for us to hone our art.

Despite the fact that the writing itself isn't the best, these books are also a prime example of how a fun and fascinating character doing interesting things will not only sell, but endure in our hearts.

But we want to be good writers, right? Therefore lets take a look at some common mistakes as illustrated by Nancy Drew.

Part 1: Contrived Beginnings
Part 2: Lack of Red Herrings
Part 3: See Through Bad Guys
Part 4: Undescribed Characters
Part 5: Too Many Characters at Once
Part 6: Adverb Abuse 
Part 7: Unnecessary Scenes

Incidentally, as the series was revised several times (and according to what I've read, whole plots were sometimes changed) not all editions of the books may have the same faults. The books I refer to in this series are:
The Secret of the Old Clock - 1930 Edition
The Hidden Staircase - reprint of the 1930 Edition
The Bungalow Mystery - 1988 Edition
The Mystery at Lilac Inn  -  1961 Edition
The Secret of Red Gate Farm -  1961 Edition
Nancy's Mysterious Letter - 1968 Edition
Readers of the series may notice I skipped over a few of the books. That's because my local library didn't have them in stock at the moment.

For anyone who wants to read the history of Nancy Drew, here's an excellent website.

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories
Nancy Drew Games

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