Eight or ten years ago I decided to read the same handful of Dorothy Sayers mysteries over and over again. This wasn’t so much devotion to Sayers as it was an act of desperation because I could find so few other fiction writers of her caliber.
Reading The Nine Tailors for the fifth or sixth time in a year, I found my attention sinking below the level of plot and character until I was unconsciously noting many other elements. In one scene I suddenly saw why Mrs. Gates the housekeeper had to be such a snob. Her attitude drove that scene, which in turn delivered a segment of information crucial to the solution of the mystery.
Seeing this was like having the clouds open up above me, releasing a shaft of sunlight to beam directly onto my head. All by myself I’d seen a standard technique of plot development, and the fun of this discovery was well worth waiting for, although I could have learned it years earlier if I’d taken a class on fiction writing.