hand holding knife, stabbing downward

Wilmena Kane/Flickr

Adding ‘And then the murders began’ instantly makes any book better

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times … and then the murders began.


Jay Hathaway

Internet Culture

There’s a set of commonly shared rules that tend to make fiction writing better—”show, don’t tell,” and the like—and last week, author Marc Laidlaw added a new one to the list. He posited on Twitter that any story can be enhanced by following the first line with “and then the murders began…”


Surely, the plot device of murder wouldn’t fit into just any narrative? Well, actually …

Some people are calling this literary truism “Laidlaw’s rule,” and there are hundreds of examples on Twitter already, from Harry Potter to the Holy Bible. It just goes with everything!




Even wildly popular fantasy author Neil Gaiman got in on the game, adding some murderousness to Jane Austen:

And the value of Laidlaw’s rule isn’t limited to fiction, either. Some people are reporting it works wonders for their dry textbooks and other academic writing:

Who knew computer science could be so thrilling?

The trick works because, although it can be a joke, it also reveals an underlying truth about storytelling. Any opening is better when you simulataneously reveal some tantalizing detail and create a question in the reader’s mind. In the case of “and then the murders began,” you’re introducing the shock and intrigue of serial murder, but it’s not yet clear who’s killing, who’s dying, or why. It doesn’t matter what sentence comes before a barnburner like that, it’s always going to work.

As a meme, though, it’ll probably be fairly shortlived. People picked it up and played with it on Twitter for a few days, trying to create funny juxtapositions with famous first lines, but the best possibilities were soon exhausted. And then the murders began…

Share this article

*First Published:

The Daily Dot