I WANT TO TURN THE PAGE!

Good suspense writing technique for ending a chapter. Definitely makes the reader want to turn the page. 

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Devon’s pleasant, middle-class street was peaceful. No one was trying to murder her, or Tyson, or me, but this was about to change.

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“Was” is considered a weak verb in good writing. Stronger, more descriptive verbs are recommended.  But, Crais has rhythm, and it works here.

From, The Wanted, by Robert Crais, one of my favorite crime-thriller authors.

WHAT TO CUT?

“WHEN REVISING, WHAT DO YOU LOOK TO CUT? WHAT IS THE HARDEST MATERIAL TO CUT?”

[These responses are from three writers, excerpted from THE SECRET MIRACLE, THE NOVELIST’S HANDBOOK, edited by Daniel Alarcon. Interesting, but very different]

DINAW MENGESTU: The hardest material is always the material that I fought and struggled to arrive at. There were chapters that I had spent months writing, that I had revised and edited until I thought they were nearly perfect. The problem, however, was that they no longer fit into the novel. They had no purpose, or in one case took the novel in a direction it could no longer sustain, so they had to be cut, or saved under a different name so I could always find them again, just in case.

MICHAEL CHABON: As much as possible. I love cutting. It hurts for a second but it immediately feels great afterward. You feel lighter, relieved of bad dreams and heavy burdens. 

I can watch two or three hundred pages go down the tubes with the equanimity of a lab assistant gassing a rat. 

ANNE ENRIGHT: Some evening, toward the end of the process, I drink a lot of whiskey and go through the damn thing with a red pen. The question, in the morning, is not what I have cut but what I have left in.  ###

HE PULLED ME BACK IN!

Michael Connelly, the crime-mystery-thriller author, did it again. 

I’d already read twenty-nine of his books. Loved them all. But I hadn’t read The Late Show, published in 2017. Put it off, probably thinking,  save it for later,  know his  formula. It will be good, but let me read other stuff.

But, the book sat there,  an unspoken invitation. So, I opened the cover. Kidnapped me within six pages with an-all-too-familiar experience that left me as frustrated as the cops.

The two officers roll up on a call from a seventy-seven year old woman who received a fraud alert e-mail on her credit card, which is missing. Looks like it’s been stolen. Officer Renée Ballard tries to help the aged female in her fraud phone call followup, after the woman is stonewalled.

“The system only works if we catch the guy,” Ballard said. . .  .

“I am sorry,” the supervisor said. “I cannot help you without documentation from the courts. It is our protocol.”

“What’s your name?”

“My name is Irfan.”

“Where are you, Irfan?”

“How do you mean?”

“Are you in Mumbai? Delhi? Where?”

“I am in Mumbai, yes.”

“And that’s why you don’t give a shit. Because this guy’s never going to come into your house and steal your wallet in Mumbai. Thanks very much.”

Connelly’s protagonists can be cynical, weary, overworked, take short cuts, but they are trying to fight the good fight against long odds. They are in the arena, and I always respect that. 

One thing for sure, they are real, just like Connelly describes “out there” with his authentic, fast-paced detail. 

 

SHE’S BREAKING THE WRITING RULES AGAIN!

I am a big, big fan of Gillian Flynn. Her writing captivates and terrorizes with insights into the darker side of human nature, beyond any Hannibal Lecter.  I re-read her GONE GIRL three times and studied it to death, so to speak.

I had to digest her work SHARP OBJECTS, in a number of sessions. Too much reading at once would require swallowing a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor.

Anyhow, I came across this paragraph, remarkable for its smooth authenticity in breaking all the writing rules. You are supposed to be “in the head” of only one person in a chapter, or in a scene. If you present more than one character, it’s called “ head hopping”—a big no-no that leads to reader confusion. 

Here, Flynn head hops with a vengeance in story and dialogue. But, so well done. Camille is the female protagonist of the book, visiting Katie in her home town after the murder of two young girls.

     Katie Lacy Brucker didn’t seem to care why I was in her home this Friday morning. There was talk of a celebrity tell-all she was reading, and whether childrens’ beauty pageants were forever stigmatized by JonBenet. Mackenzie is just dying to model. Well she’s as pretty as her mother, who can blame her? Why, Camille, that’s sweet of you to say—I never felt like you thought I was pretty. Oh of course, don’t be silly. Would you like a drink? Absolutely.  We don’t keep liquor in the home. Of course, not what I meant at all. Sweet tea? Sweet tea is lovely, impossible to get in Chicago, you really miss the title regional goodies, you should see how they do their ham up there. So great to be home.

###

Len Deighton–spy thrillers.

Len Deighton—spy thrillers. Leiter Writing Tips
[writing as Ben Leiter]

This guy holds a top spot for being one of my favorite spy- thriller writers. Right up there with John LeCarré.
Why?

Not a writer. No training. Wrote like writing to a friend in 1st person. Read a lot before in his life. Made it all up. …likes the idea of making his readers “jump about: as they try to work out whether his characters are telling the truth, half-truths or downright lies.”

Also,
Excellent at building subtle conflict.
I really enjoy his first person point of view.
It’s easy to relate to his intelligence agent, series protagonist, Bernard Samson: middle-aged; worries about his job, his wife, the kids, and life. Knows there is something wrong in his marriage, but not quite sure what.

Sample excerpts:

“Fiona was very beautiful, especially when she smiled that sort of smile that women save for men who have lost their woman.”

“Beside the bed, my photo stared back at me from its silver frame. Bernard Sampson, a serious young man with baby face, wavy hair and horn-rimmed glasses looked nothing like the wrinkled old fool I shaved every morning.”“…he kept his voice flat, and contrived the casual offhand tone in which Englishmen prefer to discuss matters of life and death.”

“He liked clichés. They were, he said, the best way to get simple ideas into the heads of idiots.”

“Brett had spent his life in swivel chairs, arguing with dictating machines and smiling for committees.”

“…where Hitler had fought his last battles against marriage and the Red Army and, defeated by both Venus and Mars, blew out his troubled brains…”

“I am beginning to think that Christianity has a lot in common with Marxist-Leninism…God is dialectical materialism; Christ is Karl Marx; the Church is the Party, the elect is the proletariat, and the Second Coming is the Revolution.”

“The truth was that I didn’t know whether I loved her or not; all I knew was that I missed her dreadfully when I wasn’t with her. If that wasn’t love, I’d settle for it until love arrived.”

“All around me there were the “over” people: overanxious, overweight, overbearing, overeducated, overrated, overweening, overachieving, overselling, overspending, and overproducing.”

Eastern Europe had not yet discovered orthodontistry. With no proper elections to contest, its leaders did not need teeth and hair.”

“Anyone who’d read a history book could see that Hitler gained power by wooing the German middle classes while the communists disdained them.”

“But love is like the measles; the later in life it afflicts you, the more severe the consequences.”
“Is there anything you can take for it?”
“Only wedding vows.”

“He was wearing gloves, I noticed. That was encouraging. Men wearing gloves are not quick on the trigger.”

He said in uncertain English, ‘We Germans are so very like you Americans! That is why there is this constant friction. Both our countrymen respond to ideology, both seek always to improve the world, and both often want to improve it by means of military crusades.’

###

EYES. [Leiter writing tips]

EYES. [Leiter writing tips]

An interesting take on “eyes,” so different from the usual clichés. From the action thriller, White Plague, by James Abel.

…Whoever said, Eyes are the windows of the soul, didn’t know what he was talking about. Eyes are curtains to prevent you from seeing. They’re rabbits that climb out of a magician’s hat. Eyes are the last thing you see smiling before a bullet slams into your midsection. I’ll take pulse rate over eyes as clues any day of the week, and my rate was up.
She slid closer.

JAMES PATTERSON: interview excerpt

LEITER WRITING TIPS
[excerpts from interview with James Patterson in BY THE BOOK]

Re his favorite novelists: “Gabriel Garcia Marquez, James Joyce, and Gunter Grass are important to me because their writing made it crystal clear that I wasn’t capable of the write stuff. Those dream killers are still among my favorites. So is George Pelecanos in the thriller-mystery game. Also, Richard Price, who seems to remember every good line and phrase he ever heard. ]

Patterson: “I avoid the same kinds of books I do people—long-winded, sanctimonious, goody-two-shoes, self-important…”

N.B. Like Patterson, I don’t have “the write stuff” either; or the Patterson stuff. But, I’m working on it with two California Writers Clubs: The Tri-Valley Writers; and The San Joaquin Writers.
Ben Leiter. http://benleiter.com