The Mirror Maze World of the Private Eye Part 2


by Diana Black

EDITOR’S NOTE: Haven’t read Part 1 yet? You really should GO HERE

#3. First deception uncovered, usually perpetrated by the Client.

  • Q. What is this Dick embarking on?
    What dangers are looming?
    What’s different about this Dick’s journey compared with other Dicks’? How is it typical?
    Why the deception in the first place? What is the client hiding from the Dick (or from themselves)?PI-Dick-flipped
    Why the ‘red herring/s’ –
    why is the client trying to throw the Dick off the scent?

#4. Detective hassled by the cops.

  • Q. Why is he/she being hassled?
    What is the cop’s agenda/objective? How does it differ from the Dick’s and the Client’s?
  • Q. If the cops hassle the Dick, who/what is hassling the Cops?
    Is the Dick that awesome (serious competition for the’ badge on the chest’ or the heart of the daughter) or, are they being pressured into getting rid of the Dick because….? Use ‘What If’s’ here.
  • Q. What is the ‘relationship history’ between the Dick and the cop or cops?
  • Q. Is there corruption going down (are the cops being paid off by the Master Criminal)? How are
    you (via action and dialogue) going to demonstrate this without making it too obvious?

#5. Detective beat up by the crooks.

  • Q. This is great – that means the Dick must be getting close.
    Or, what if the Dick is really a ‘dick’ – clueless (hired for that very reason) and gets lucky (potential comedic value)?
  • Q. How does the client react to the beating?
    How does the Dick react after the beating (alludes to character)?
  • Q. What if it’s not a beating per se but a set-up (he/she’s framed)?
    Who stands to win and what’s the prize? How is the setup/framing orchestrated?

#6 Detective connects with femme fatale at a night club, casino, or her penthouse.

  • Q. Is there sexual tension going between the Dick and this woman?
    It had better be slowly sizzling – with failed opportunities, almost but, against his/her better judgment but it’s getting harder and harder to resist – build up the tension.
    Is it planned? It has to be her doing. The Dick is a ‘squeaky-clean/professional but… he’s human after all so he’s struggling to ‘keep it professional’. Make him suffer! Maybe he never succumbs to her wily charms and turns the table on her – now the hunter is prey.

#7. Detective meets the Master Crook (MC)… not the underlings – the MC tries to buy the Dick off.

  • Q. Does ‘buy’ necessarily mean $$$? What else could it be?
    Is it power, absolution (from a dreadful crime from the Dick’s dark past) or, a special gift that perhaps only the MC can give?
    ‘Buy’ could also be in the form of a threat – if the Dick doesn’t back off, their life/situation is going to be exposed/severely compromised.

Think about peeling an onion – layer upon layer… the Dick is on a mission to reveal those layers and everyone – deliberately or inadvertently, is blocking him/her – every step of the way. Alternatively, think of a mirror maze – a ‘journey’ of achievements and failures, blind alleys, revelations that are about him/her rather than the crime, which is just the vehicle for this self-discovery. Some of those ‘mirrors’ may be convex/concave and distorting the truth.

#8. Detective confronts client/femme fatale about deception (#3) and learns another slice of
truth or, told a better lie.

  • Q. Does the Dick make real progress?
    Does the Dick’s lie-o-meter red-line – if fed a delicious, evil lie?
    Or, is the Dick fed the lie and dutifully goes off down another rabbit-hole/blind alley?
  • Q. Does the confrontation bear some fruit with a piece of the puzzle being revealed – up-front or inadvertently by the client?
    Is it because the Dick is deceptively awesome or damn lucky?

#9. Gunfight – one or two.

  • Q. If more than one, is it an escalating battle/series of battles?
  • Q. Is it a fast-paced, cat-n-mouse?
    Remember your Protagonist’s skill set – it might come in useful here.
  • Q. Is the fight a ruse – to throw off the Dick – or is it a ‘no-holds-barred’ fight to the death?
    How dirty/ghastly/evil is this battle?
    Think about your intended audience – the rating/classification and likely media platform. That may well determine just how violent and nasty you (your characters) go.

If going down the avenue of torture, think about the fact that while graphic violence may hold the viewer briefly or make a disturbing edition to their nightmares, how can you allude to it such that the implied violence is much more disturbing. The reader/audience will be compelled to stay watching and they probably have a dark imagination with which to surpass yours. ‘Obvious’ is boring. Pull the rug out from underneath them at every turn AND with cliffhangers – it will get the serious attention of ‘the suits’ and if ‘green-lit’, generate buzz in the coffee room the day after the episode was aired.

  • Q. Did the Dick get seriously injured (not fatally)?
    Did the Dick fake his/her death to go under cover?
  • Q. Is this narrative all about a lack of trust (refer back to your premise/log line and theme)?
  • Q. What is driving the Dick to ‘stay the course’? If they’re a great Protagonist, the money no
    longer matters but the truth means everything.
    Whose truth is the one that counts? Who determines that? It’s all about character.
  • Q. What does the Dick have to draw upon (within themselves) in order to prevail?

#10. Detective connects seemingly irrelevant information – arrives at the truth.

  • Q. Is their success as a result of their amazing skill, which they developed on this journey?
    Was it by accident (potential comedic value)?
  • Q. Is the revelation – ground breaking or bleeding obvious had they been paying better attention earlier on?
  • Q. Does the ‘affect’ of this crime go way beyond the client (think of a stone dropped into a pond)
    – is it Earth-shattering and pervasive. Think of The Big Short (Adam McKay, 2015).
  • Q. Does the epiphany force them to go back to ‘Step One’ with the realization they’ve been fed a steady diet of ‘red herrings’ (virtually the whole season, if a TV series)?
  • What if almost the whole narrative was a series of corridors and one-way doors – what the hell do they do now?
    They can’t go back – they’ll have to devise a new plan.

#11. Final confrontation with Master Crook or femme -or homme – fatale – the detective makes hard choices.

  • Q. How can you give the Dick a dilemma – between two diabolical choices?
  • Q. Does the Dick prevail and is Universe set to rights – because of their transformation or, they never changed – Columbo (Link & Levison, 1971 – 2003) over the life of the series?
  • Q. Does the Dick, who was a ‘dick’ bumbling through, no longer a ‘dick’ but older/wiser?
  • Q. Does the Dick ‘get the girl’? Does she finally realize she’s better off without the object of theinvestigation?
  • Q. What ‘price’ did the Dick have to pay? Personal or public?

I know that this is a lot to digest, but if your work won’t stand up to your own analysis, then how will it fare with other producers, agents, actors, directors, and audiences? Think of all the detective shows you’ve watched that have used this paradigm, either knowingly or unknowingly? Now think of how much less aggravating it’s going to be with you understanding the pattern and not having to reinvent the wheel?


ANOTHER EDITOR’S NOTE: Parts 1 and 2 of this article have been inspired by a little booklet called “Storytelling Patterns in Genre Films,” written by our Beloved Leader, Larry Brody. In that slender but informative PDF file you’ll find lists of the essential – one might in fact say “obligatory” scenes – for almost every type of film, TV, or literary genre story as well as LB’s famous discussion of how to use them when outlining (also known as his popular online article “Writing the Dreaded Outline.” The booklet isn’t available on the web or in stores. You can’t pay for it anywhere. But you can get it as a Free Bonus Gift when you enter TVWriter™’s PEOPLE’S PILOT COMPETITION…which is worth entering for many more reasons as well.

Info about the PEOPLE’S PILOT is HERE

And you can read “Writing the Dreaded Outline,” the most-viewed article on TVWriter™ HERE

Diana Black is an Australian actress and writer in Larry Brody’s Master Class.

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