Sometimes I’m in such a foul mood, my only escape is into my fiction. There I can pal around with the people I like. And I can kill the ones I don’t like.
Topic: Ongoing Learning
A couple of days ago, I started reading the second Jack Reacher book Lee Child ever wrote. And his first Jack Reacher book was also very his first novel and a New York Times bestseller.
That “bestseller” label doesn’t always do it for me, but this is very good stuff.
The guy’s an excellent writer. As opposed, say, to someone else who’s also always on the bestseller lists only because he’s a masterful marketer. Umm, even though his writing sucks canal water from all 50 states plus Puerto Rico.
Somehow that feels like cheating to me. THAT is “selling out” to the almighty buck.
To be clear, this isn’t a matter of liking or not liking a writer’s style. This is a matter of too many errors springing out of the page and shoving me out of a reading experience even though I’m not actively looking for them.
But Lee Child is an excellent writer, and I’m learning a great deal. Mostly I’m learning what do do, and a little what not to do.
I’ve found only two “what not to do” things thus far. The first, his repeated spelling of “Marines” in all lower case, I already knew. But that was only in his first book, and the rest of the writing (and the story) was so strong I was able to overlook it.
As a happy bonus, he corrected that error beginning with the second book.
As an instructional aside, the word Marine, unless you’re using the synonym for “aquatic,” is always capitalized. With all due respect for my fellow servicemen and women, a member of the Navy is not a Navy; he’s a sailor. Likewise for a member of the Air Force (airman), Army (soldier) and Coast Guard (sailor or coast guardsman). But a member of the Marine Corps is a Marine.
But back to Lee Child and his friend, Jack Reacher… Of the “what to do” things, I’ve found some that I already know and use. That was useful to me anyway because his use of the same techniques validates my use of them.
● Like me, he gets deep inside the character’s head. Every word he puts on the page is filtered through the POV character’s senses and opinions of the setting, other characters, etc.
● Like me, while he’s inside the character’s head, he sometimes slows the action with a lot of psychological stuff. It’s called psychological suspense. I noticed that most often he employs this technique when he’s leading up to a fast-action scene. But the psychological stuff is still gripping and holds my interest because it describes, in minute detail, a heightened thought process.
● Like me, he sometimes also employs Film Director Sam Pekinpah’s method of meticulous visual description of an otherwise fast-action event. This also slows the action, sort of, while pulling the reader directly into the center of it. It puts the reader in the action in the place of the POV character. Usually that’s the good guy. Sometimes it’s the bad guy. It doesn’t bog down the action at all.
● Like me he sometimes drags the reader at breakneck speed through a fast-action scene that leaves the reader breathless. This usually occurs toward the end of a chapter. There will be a fast-action scene, then a short calming scene (usually no more than a 3- or 4-line paragraph), and then an absolutely shocking, usually psychological, cliffhanger.
● And like me, he employs the “team” concept. (This is one I’m still working on perfecting.) Jack Reacher forms a new team in each new adventure. Likewise, the main bad guy also has a team.
Interesting too, maybe, to note that the old saw about the protagonist being “an ordinary guy doing extraordinary things” applies in the Reacher series. Sort of.
Jack Reacher is most definitely not an ordinary guy, but the story seems always to open with him BEING an ordinary guy. He’s eating breakfast in a diner in a backwater Georgia town, for example. Or he’s strolling casually down the sidewalk in downtown Chicago.
Then stuff happens. As a quick result of stuff happening, he’s dragged into a situation he has no control over. It’s a life-threatening situation, and he has to fix it or die.
That seems to me a pretty good template for an opening. (grin)
Lee Child also does a few things that I recognize as techniques I want to learn. I won’t elaborate on those except to say this: they are techniques that create in the reader a particular effect I also want to create in a reader.
I’m tagging those pages. When I’ve finished the book I’ll go back and re-read those parts with an eye to how he does it.
Finally, earlier I mentioned I’d found two “what not to do” things. I already elaborated on the first because it was easy.
The second is that sometimes he OVER describes. I recognize those because I find it easy to skip over some of the writing.
Don’t misunderstand. This doesn’t happen very often. If it did, it would push me out of the story. So it’s rare, but it happens.
● Sometimes he repeats information unnecessarily.
● Sometimes he goes into great depth describing a setting that doesn’t need to be described in such depth because it doesn’t play a major role in the story.
And those are also things I’ve begun to recognize in some of my own work.
For now, I take care of most of those when I cycle back at the beginning of each day’s writing. I take care of the rest of them (or most of the rest of them) when I do a final read-through ALOUD after I’ve finished the work.
Lee Child has almost as many novels in the Reacher series as I have total. I was pleased to learn, in an article (see today’s “Of Interest” section), that he writes the same way I do.
He doesn’t outline. He doesn’t do character sketches. He doesn’t try to force his characters to do his will. In other words, he is not the Almighty Writer on High.
He just sits down and writes.
Me? Sigh. Today, not so much.
I got out to the Hovel late today. Then I wrote the stuff above and saved it to a flash drive. Then I took a break up at the house to transfer all of this to today’s edition of the Journal.
After that I drove down to check the mail at the PO, then finally headed back to the Hovel at about 11. I didn’t do much there, then went back to the house around 12:30 for lunch.
Then back to the Hovel again. But the mojo just wasn’t there today. Over the next hour or so I got one session at a little over 1000 words. By then, I had decided I was going to spend the rest of the day doing other things.
I’m taking another look at my website and doing some other stuff. So short fiction writing day today.
With the weekend coming up, I might or might not be back tomorrow or Sunday. We’ll see.
To see what Lee Child does (and how), see “The man with no plot: how I watched Lee Child write a Jack Reacher novel” at http://theconversation.com/the-man-with-no-plot-how-i-watched-lee-child-write-a-jack-reacher-novel-51220.
Wow, some major news from Kris Rusch. See “Best Laid Plans of Mice and Kittens” at https://kriswrites.com/2018/03/14/business-musings-best-laid-plans-of-mice-and-kittens/.
WARNING! See “Updated: Simon & Schuster’s Vanity Press Launches Writing Contest to Exploit More Authors” at https://the-digital-reader.com/2018/03/15/simon-schsuters-vanity-press-launches-nanowrimo-writing-contest-exploit-authors/. Don’t fall for this crap, folks. Don’t pay someone to publish your book just because they promise to provide you with a lot of things you can get free on your own.
See “Setting Can Add Tension,” a pretty good first-page critique by Jordan Dane at https://killzoneblog.com/2018/03/first-page-critique-dancing-with-the-well-bred-devil.html.
Fiction Words: 1145
Nonfiction Words: 1230 (Journal)
So total words for the day: 2375
Writing of Stern Talbot, PI—The Early Years: The Case of the Sliced-Up Secretary
Day 1…… 3207 words. Total words to date…… 3207
Day 2…… 3079 words. Total words to date…… 6286
Day 3…… 3870 words. Total words to date…… 10156
Day 4…… 2481 words. Total words to date…… 12637
Day 5…… 3164 words. Total words to date…… 15801
Day 6…… 3140 words. Total words to date…… 18941
Day 7…… 1145 words. Total words to date…… 20086
Total fiction words for the month……… 40459
Total fiction words for the year………… 91854
Total nonfiction words for the month… 6750
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 26080
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 125954
Calendar Year 2018 Novels to Date………………………… 2
Calenday Year 2018 Novellas to Date…………………… 0
Calendar Year 2018 Short Stories to Date……… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)………………………………………… 29
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)……………………………………… 4
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)……………………………… 182