The final exam I just gave my 200-level Mystery as Lit class:

Thought some of you might get a kick out of this. The students loved it, mostly.

ENGL 272 Final Exam

Generally, final exams ask students to once again grapple with the basic subject matter of the class: in our case, some of the big questions presented by the great mystery novels of the past century or so, like gender issues, matters of race and class, and the idea of justice in its infinitely variable manifestations, whether cosmic in origin or man-made. This is not that kind of final. It’s my feeling that we’ve been over (and over) our big subjects, and that, generally speaking, we get it. So I’m going to ask you to do something one is hardly ever asked to do in college (or anywhere else, for that matter): use your imaginations. This exam has only one question, in three parts. It asks that you think the unthinkable (or not: for some of you this may not be such an unusual bit of ideation).

So here’s the exercise: In an informal essay, put yourself in the shoes of the crime novelist and imagine the perfect murder. Be sure to address all three parts, described below.

a. Who would you kill? It has to be someone specific, but no names, please, and no one I could identify (and not me, for giving you this crazy exam). If you’re mad at your biology professor, you could say “a certain professor in the sciences.” If it’s an ex-boyfriend, that’s all the information I need. Keep away from public or political figures: this should be someone from your life. It’s okay to fictionalize if you need to in order to hide a real person’s identity—so, your mother could become Aunt Betty, or whatever.

b.How would you do it? You must invent a credible scenario that would allow you to commit the crime without being caught. Where would the crime take place? What weapon would you use? How would you dispose of it? How would you avoid being spotted by witnesses? What about an alibi? Try to come up with a method that’s both original and workable: nothing too sadistic, please.

c.How would you dispose of the body? One catch here: you are geographically bound to Eau Claire county: no fair transporting the body to Oregon and heaving it into the Pacific ocean.

Try to keep these as clear and concise as possible. As I said, what I’m looking for are scenarios which are both original and workable. Remember that the police are slow and methodical, undermanned and under-funded, but not altogether stupid—and they have all of the usual forensic tools at their disposal. Before you start to write, you might want to think things through, and perhaps make some notes, lists, charts—whatever it takes.

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Jon -- Please post the winners!
Take-home??? Or do you expect your students to present you with a plot outline in 2 hours and without advance warning? And laboring under the temporary shock of being faced with something unexpected?
do you expect your students to present you with a plot outline in 2 hours and without advance warning?

Of course! Where's the challenge in a take-home?

But seriously--I'm not asking for an entire plot outline, obviously. Just a brief scenario describing a single murder. Most of them did it in less than an hour.
Now for the key question all of the writers here want to know about: Did the students sign releases?
Of course! In exchange, I promise not to report them to campus security for writing creepy stuff.
Have you ever read Victor Gischler's Pistol Poets?
No, but I want to name a band The Pistol Poets now.
Will you be scanning the papers for unusual death reports? :)
Not a bad idea. Of course, if you commit the crime you've just described in detail to your English prof, you definitely deserve to go to jail.
Any time, Thomas.
What fun! School might have gotten more of my attention if I'd had teachers like you.
Mostly I'm incredibly boring--but once in awhile I do something moderately interesting by accident.


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