Saturday, March 26, 2011

Little Things Mean a Lot*

It’s interesting how powerful just a few words can be. A single word can be a painful insult. A few words can be a warm and powerful reassurance of love. Simple words and phrases such as “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry” can be the glue that holds people together. In crime fiction, there’s definitely something to be said for what Agatha Christie called, “an economy of words.” Of course readers want solid character development and enough detail to get absorbed in the story. However, a story that’s too long, or where the detail doesn’t add to the plot can be very off-putting. In fact, some of the better crime fiction novels out there are not particularly long. Domingo Villar’s Water-Blue Eyes, for instance, is only 176 pages. Many of Agatha Christie’s novels are less than 300 pages. There are lots of other examples, too; I’m sure you could think of many more than I could.

How many words does it take to tell a crime fiction story? Well, of course that depends on the story. But as you’ll soon see, it doesn’t take many. Here are a few of what fellow crime fiction writer and blogger Rob Kitchin has called Dribbles – crime stories in exactly 50 words – that I wrote:

“Cigarette?” he asked.

“Please,” she smiled shyly as he lit her smoke.

Unfair, really, how easy it was to chat her up, he thought.

They left the club for her place.

Ten minutes later, after she’d taken his wallet, he felt the knife. He thought again how unfair it was.

They waited together on the platform. Five minutes until their train. This was her escape from home – her chance for a life with Ronnie. He’d take care of her.

Here came the Graysworth train. Their train was next.

“Here’s where you get off, honey,” he said as he pushed her.

“To another successful quarter,” Jarvis said, raising his champagne flute.

“To our success,” Arlyn said, raising his, too.

The glasses clinked as the partners celebrated. Their business was a runaway success.

Arlyn slumped over.

Next quarter was going to be even more profitable, Jarvis thought as he washed the glasses.

“Officer, my car’s been stolen!”

“What kind of car, Ma’am?”

“It’s a 2011 Jaguar XF. I left it here while I shopped and it’s gone!”

“Can I have your information?”

“Of course.”


Even splitting the profit with Louie the local car thief, he’d make a bundle from a Jaguar.

Finally, a week-end with Nina. Heather didn’t know about Nina – he’d made sure of that. He pulled up at Nina’s apartment.

“Ready?” he asked when she got in.

“Oh, yes,” Nina answered.

Then he saw the gun.

“You didn’t tell me you were married” were the last words he heard.

“It’s easy,” she purred, “Just hold her head down in this hot tub.”

“I can’t! She’s my wife!”

“You said you loved me! Don’t you?”

“Yes, but –”

“If you don’t do it, I’ll tell her about us.”

She was right. It was easy. He just held her head down.

Want to try your hand at some Dribbles? You know you do : - ). They are fun, and I would just love to read and share your work. Give a Dribble (or a few of them) a try and send them to me at MargotKinberg(at)gmail(dot)com (or simply use the “Email Me” button on my sidebar). If you’ll send me your Dribbles by 4 April, I’ll do a Fifty Words to Kill Your Victim post (much like a similar post I did last November) sharing everyone’s work. C’mon! Let’s play! I’m really looking forward to all your stories!

*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Edith Lindeman and Carl Stutz.


  1. I have just started Jo Nesbo's latest which weighs in at over 600 pages. I shall remember your clever dribbles as I read. One of the main reasons Agatha Christie still sells so well is the reasonable length of her stories.

  2. Norman - 600 pages is a lot of story! Of course, It is Nesbø. Still... I'll be quite interested to read what you think of it. And you're quite right, I think; Agatha Christie's novels still find wide audiences in large part because they aren't overlong.

  3. What wonderful Dribbles. They say so much with so little like the old saying, 'Less is more.' Looking forward to your entries.

    Thoughts in Progress

  4. Mason - Thank you :-)! That's the thing about micro-fiction like this; you really can tell a story in just a few words.

  5. Sounds like fun, I'll try to make one up.

  6. Margot - Dribbles are the haikus of crime fiction. You have excellent elegant examples.

    I will try one:

    "You say you were assaulted while carrying a pail of milk" asked the defence lawyer.

    "Yes" replied the accuser.

    "How much was spilled?"


    "No further questions."

  7. Clarissa - Oh, thanks! I'll look forward to it!

    Bill - How kind of you - thank you :-). And I'm very impressed with your Dribble, too! It tells the whole story (and it's a good one, too) very well.

    I also really like your description of Dribbles as the haiku of crime fiction. That really says it all.

  8. These are fun. Rather like writing haikus though where the length is a strait jacket instead of a prompt.

  9. Patti - Interesting! I hadn't thought of the length as a strait jacket, but it certainly does make a person think about word choice - rather like a tweet does.