Hindsight Bias in Mysteries

mystery hindsight biasYou see it all the time in mysteries. “If I only knew that that bannister was about to give way, then Aunt Jane never would have fell down the steps and broke her neck.” Welcome to hindsight bias.

Sometimes, guilt motivates it. Other times, a seemingly clever murderer will bemoan his failure to spot the obvious to throw suspicion onto someone else. His brother, maybe?

Many writers and wise ones have had a lot to say about hindsight. Billy Wilder allegedly said that “Hindsight is always 20-20.” The truth of it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good thing. Along with it comes a lot of baggage, including some things that are quite unpleasant.

For example, you have to wonder what motivated Kurt Vonnegut to say, “Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, ‘It might have been.‘” Makes me a bit sad just writing it. Or how about when Greek playwright, Sophocles, said, “I have no desire to suffer twice, in reality and then in retrospect.”

What Is Hindsight Bias?

Israeli-American psychologist, Daniel Kahneman, and his collaborator, Amos Tversky, identified hindsight bias as one of those mental mechanisms we use to navigate life. In this case, we fool ourselves into thinking that an event was predictable all along, the I-knew-it-all-along effect.

For every time you’ve heard it, said it, or read it, it’s probably been repeated dozens and dozens of times more. We invoke the hindsight bias to save face within our group. We may do it to console ourselves or to rationalize a bad choice. That’s what makes mystery writers like Agatha Christie so great.

Mysteries Using Hindsight

Christie and others like her brought a sense of realism to their work by exposing our humanness. Sometimes, it’s uncomfortable. After all, who likes to admit they screwed up? Guilt, of course, acts as another powerful instigator of the hindsight bias.

There’s a valuable lesson in learning about the biases and heuristics we use, even if they don’t always give us the right answer or point us in the right direction. They help us learn about ourselves. And they help us understand how important we view our place in society and within our group(s).

We gravitate to what seems the easiest course. It’s human nature. But, lest we rely too much on hindsight, lest us recall the words of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle who knew a thing or two about logic.


“It is easy to be wise after the event.”


http://mystery.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR

photo credit: i k o via photopin cc

Old Notebooks Like Old Friends

one of many old notebooksI hoard two things: books and old notebooks. I have one bookshelf filled with books that I’ve read and have yet to open. I like having them around. Then, there are the old notebooks.

Old Notebooks as Treasure Troves

I call them notebooks rather than journals because they don’t include personal musings about my life. They are simply sounding boards for new stories. I’ve kept many through the years, each marking something new that I had glammed on.

I don’t keep them in one specific place. They live where they live. Every now and again, I’ll stumble upon one. It’s best if I haven’t looked at it for awhile. That was the find I made the other day.

I encourage you to look to these older writings, if you have any. They offer a wonderful glimpse into your past. You might recall an eventful time in your life or just revisit a path that you once walked. Memories fade. But old notebooks bring them back to life.

Glimpses into the Past

You can discover some real gems in your writing. One of the best feelings is re-reading your old stuff and realizing that you’re pretty good. Your writing didn’t suck. You had some good things to say. You nailed a description. Sometimes, these mental reinforcements are the perfect thing at the right time.

Sometimes, my old notebooks surprise me. The one I found the other day had the beginnings of a Victorian era mystery. My heroine worried about her lover who had disappeared. Even with the bridge of time, I could feel the emotion of the character. I panicked with her as the story took a darker turn.

Then, it ended. For this piece, I didn’t sketch an outline of the whole story. I guess that I waited for the Muse to tell it to me. I wondered where I was going to take the mystery. I don’t recall my thought process at the time. I wondered though if the story then and the one I’d write today would meet. A lot of water under the bridge, as they say.

I didn’t plan for my old notebooks to be anything other than what they were at the time I started them. But, I consider them a treasure. I’m grateful that I kept them, whether I intended to or not. The best gift they offer is another reason why I know that I’m a writer; it’s in my blood.

http://mystery.weborglodge.com/By Chris DR

photo credit: Lenny Hirsch via photopin cc