Analysing Agatha Christie – The Best-Selling Novelist Of All Time

Analysing Agatha Christie – The Best-Selling Novelist Of All Time

Writers Write is a comprehensive writing resource. In this post, we’ve written about analysing Agatha Christie – the best-selling novelist of all time.

Analysing Agatha Christie

The Agatha Christie Code

British author, Agatha Christie wrote 85 books that sold between two and four billion copies.

According to UNESCO, she is the most translated author in the history of the world, and The Guinness Book of World Records has recognised her as the Best Selling Author in any genre of all time. Shakespeare was left out of this comparison, because he wrote plays and not novels. Even so, the best he can do is match Agatha Christie’s sales numbers.

What is Agatha Christie’s secret to success?

‘The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.’ ~Thomas Jefferson

Dame Agatha seems to have mastered this talent. In The Agatha Christie Code, a team of professional linguists in England analysed Dame Agatha’s way with words. The experts, including Dr Pernilla Danielsson, agree that she has a hypnotic style, but it is her use of patterns and plain language that make her so readable. Here are some examples:
  1. Christie almost exclusively uses the word ‘said’. Novice authors often try to use silly synonyms when said is the perfect choice.
  2. She writes in the active voice.
  3. She does not introduce new words, but makes the reader comfortable with her use of everyday language.
  4. She does not challenge the reader’s patience with long convoluted sentences.
  5. She does not bore the reader with unnecessary descriptions.
  6. The reader is free to enjoy the story by focusing on the plot.

Her books also follow a formula

They are all similar in style, word length, and sentence length. Take Evil Under the Sun as an example. This novel follows her classic formula:

  1. There is a body early on.
  2. There is a closed group of suspects, either because of setting or social group.
  3. The detective arrives.
  4. We are taken through a series of red herrings.
  5. There is a solution, and closure.

Excerpts from The Agatha Christie Code

But how many other best-selling authors use plain language?

Agatha Christie is not the only author to have realised the value of using Plain Language. In Fiction Writer’s Brainstormer, James V. Smith explains exactly how the best-selling authors succeed. After studying authors like Stephen King, John Grisham, Danielle Steele, and Elmore Leonard, he came up with this as an ideal writing standard (if you want to sell more books).

Once you are finished writing your novel, run readability statistics on the entire manuscript.

You should have (on average):

  1. Four characters per word. (Some words will be longer, some shorter, but the average will be four characters.)
  2. Three sentences per paragraph. (Some paragraphs will be shorter, some longer, but the average will be three sentences.)
  3. Nine words per sentence. (Some will have more words, some will have fewer words, but the average will be nine words.)
  4. A passive voice score of less than 5%.
  5. At least an 80% readability score on the Flesch-Kincaid scale. (70-80% is a good score.)
  6. No higher than a 5th grade readability level on the Flesch-Kincaid scale (This does not mean a fifth grader would understand it. It means you are writing in the active voice, using understandable words.)”

This is writing in plain language. If you want to communicate, I recommend you try it. If you want to sell books, I recommend you apply this formula.

Read more about Agatha Christie

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If you enjoyed this post, read:

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  3. The Daily Word Counts of 39 Famous Authors
Posted on: 14th May 2013