Monday’s Musing on Margot Kinberg’s latest post, “I Am the Observer” and writing back-story…

Hey all,

So Monday’s Musing on Author Margot Kinberg’s latest blog post, “I Am the Observer Who is Observing* —at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist

Much like the spectacular Eurasion Owl pictured above, Kinberg’s post got me thinking about how the observer characters in crime-fiction can help us write better back-story into our novels. In her post, she likens writers to those people in life who tend to be natural observers, hanging back and taking it all in. Nothing escapes these people. And as Kinberg points out, if you ever read Agatha Christie, you know her main man Poirot is always looking to interview the observers in the room, and that these types are ultimately the best source for detectives and cops looking to solve crimes.

Or, likewise, if you watch FX’s Criminal Minds or any of BBC’s Masterpiece mystery shows, you know that observers are often more help than any actual physical evidence found on the scene since they can point the crime solvers in the right direction, when little else can:

“Observers often have a very interesting perspective, because they stand back and notice everything… Observers can give valuable information on what they’ve seen. And their perspectives can give the detective a sense of what a group of people is like So, it’s little wonder that we see them so often in crime fiction.” Kinberg

pic by pam Evans

 What intrigued me the most in Kinberg’s post was her mention of author Louise Penny’s book, Still Life. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my list now. According to Kinberg, the victim, Jane Neal, seems to be the observer, albeit from after the grave. She helps the cops by letting them know she’d known things, a lot of things, that other people in town just may have wished she hadn’t! And that very fact, helped seal her doom!

Since I’m writing up a novel where the victim chimes in after the deadly deed too, this intrigues me. Especially as a way of dealing with a character’s back-story. Back-story is so challenging to write. It engrosses us as we create our characters, and it can be all consuming if we let it. But, we all want to avoid the dreaded ‘dumping’ sceanario where  the reader becomes barraged with info. overload all in one fell swoop! Or, as renowned crime fiction author Les Edgerton like to call it, doing “The Rubber Ducky” (

“The “Rubber Ducky” is Paddy Chayevsky’s term for when the hero or villain, at a lull in the action, explains that he is the way he is because his mother took away his rubber ducky when he was three…Always a nice scene… And totally unnecessary … It usually comes from not trusting the reader’s or viewer’s intelligence to “get it”….

Rubber Ducky

…if all you’re trying to do is give your hero more emotional depth, for the sake of emotional depth, without integrating his back-story into your story, you run the risk of awakening the dread Ducky.”  Edgerton


I don’t know how my attempt will turn out, but it seems like going back in time and letting the victim tell some of the tale from an observer standpoint seems like a great way to deal in her back-story, and without awakening the dreaded RD. 

I’m giving it my best shot anyway. Could make my tale so much more present for the reader, involving them intimately in the life of my vic by hearing her own voice relay the rough-ride. Much better her than me! As author, I so want to get out of my character’s way, and let them do the heavy lifting!

What do you all think?

Drop your comments below, and let’s talk back-story!

Ciao for now,