Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Randy Wayne White: The Perfect Thriller

Well, damn near perfect.

Randy Wayne White's new thriller, the 17th in the Doc Ford series, Deep Shadow, goes on sale March 8. Mark your calendars, thriller writers, Thriller Guy thinks this is the book to read and study if you're interested in structure, pace and a general how-to example for writing in the genre.

If you're not familiar with this excellent series, Doc Ford is a marine biologist who lives on Florid'a Mangrove Coast where he spends his time studying marine creatures and solving crimes. He's a tough guy, but fairly sensitive when he needs to be. Deep Shadow finds Doc, his hippie boat pal Tomlinson and crotchety old friend Arlis Futch in central Florida, diving a hidden pond where Arlis is sure a treasure awaits them. Along for the fun is teen Will Chaser, who was first seen in White's last book, Dead Silence. What the fellows don't know is that hiding out at the lake are two really bad guys who are on the lam after killing a family of five in a burglary. That's enough for most thriller writers right there, but White shows how it's done when he tosses in a near mythic creature who inhabits the pond and is stalking all of the above. You just know that this thing is going to eat someone, probably more than just one someone, before the ride is over. White cranks this baby up on the first page and doesn't let up until the last.

Buy it, read it and learn.

TG was so impressed he contacted RWW and interviewed him. Parts of this interview will be spread out over these pages for the next few entries. Every answer includes tips on how he writes, tips that TG knows will interest readers of this blog. White's website is also well worth a look. Besides interesting info about himself and the books, he has a series of writing exercises that will be useful for any of us who are either already writing or want to write. Check them out.

Let's get to it. Here's RWW.

This is the 17th Doc Ford book since 1990. How do you keep the character fresh?

For me, intellectually and emotionally, Ford and Tomlinson are living entities, so there is never a need to effect a sense of “freshness”, because they evolve naturally, on their own, each man (along with the characters at Dinkin’s Bay Marina) following his path, sometimes slowed or goaded along by his personal flaws or strengths. If this sounds like schizophrenia, so be it (although it makes me a tad uneasy to remember the same was said about Son of Sam). The characters are real in my mind not only because of our long association, but also because, prior to writing the first novel, Sanibel Flats, I spent months writing very lengthy bios and personality profiles of four main characters. When I say long, I mean more than thirty or forty pages on each person; profiles so detailed that they contained information that has yet to be made known to readers, even after seventeen books. I knew from the beginning that, if I was lucky enough to publish more books, Ford and Tomlinson were to be involved in a complex death dance that would pit two very basic human elements against the other: intellectual versus spiritual. I can only speak for myself, but those two cerebral forces are forever at odds in me: the wistful, romantic right side of the brain battling the no-nonsense, existential left hemisphere. I hoped that if I created one character who was purely spiritual, another purely linear, that I could address just about any topic, say anything I wanted, and get away with it.

I wrote such detailed bios because, from the beginning, I approached my writing hoping to achieve what I thought of as an “Iceberg effect” and I still use the same approach to the research required of all my books. Simply put, the Iceberg effect is this: If a writer carefully weaves together a mountain of details, he will become so comfortable with his subject that he can portray that subject authentically with only a few vital strokes. If a writer is secure in his knowledge of a subject, readers need see only the iceberg’s tip to be convinced a mountain floats beneath. My pal Peter Matthiessen told me long ago that good writing is the careful elimination of details, and I still believe that omission, when done with a sure hand, is among the most powerful techniques in the writing craft.

As importantly, I created characters who I like and respect personally. Fun, independent men and women who (like most people I know) live quiet, brave lives despite the painful, pain-in-the-ass hurdles life throws in front of all of us. I am always dubious of so-called artists and pundits who write from an everyone’s-an-idiot-but-me platform. Hate-mongering is the easiest way to draw an audience, it provides a greasy conduit to the cheapest, easiest brand of humor. In high school, we all knew some untalented goof who got attention by screaming “The principal’s an idiot!” I don’t find the Michael Moore-Glenn Beck types interesting, or admirable as people, nor very important in the universal scheme of things, and so I avoid them as characters in fiction (although, villains occasionally demonstrate Moore-Beck gifts for manipulation, particularly in DEEP SHADOW).


  1. Great post. I'm going to check this guy out.

  2. Absolutely, I'm going to start from the beginning. Hope it's on Amazon Kindle. Looking forward to learning from it.

    P.S. About 30% through the outline. Keep getting stuck waiting for information from my contact that is a special agent that is still in training - facts that are fundamental to some of the lower parts of those iceburgs I'm building. He's coming up here to visit for three days in a week or so, and I'll be able to corner him.

  3. How did I ever lose track of White. I loved the first two or three of his books and then... A bit of catching up to do.

  4. Great response to the first interview question. I'll keep the 'elimination of details' maxim in mind when adjectives start to clutter my writing.

  5. How can he mention Michael Moore and Glenn Beck in the same breath? Michael Moore is practically a saint, in my book!

  6. I believe Randy is just making his point using the widest examples of a particular spectrum. I don't think Moore is a saint, even practically, but I'm sure that Beck is an idiot.