Sunday, July 11, 2010
Thriller Guy was recently reading a review of a new book on touch, the name of which escapes TG who is too lazy to look it up, and found a piece of info that fits right in with one of his rules of good writing. Scientists discovered that when giving test subjects a document to review and edit on a clipboard, those subjects who had the heaviest clipboards did better work than those who had lighter. They seemed to feel, at least psychologically, the work was “weightier” and more important, so then worked harder. While not advising writers to go out and buy heavy clipboards, TG feels very strongly that rewrites are always best done in hard copy. Initial rewrites are fine on screen, but before any piece of writing leaves a writer's hand, it should have been printed out, edited with pen or pencil, reentered and then printed out and gone over at least one more time. Words on screen have no weight; words on printouts have a presence that demands attention. And final copy should be on better paper than early drafts, literally heavier and brighter than cheaper paper. Writing is serious stuff, hard work and important. Treat it thusly.
When TG was a brand new reviewer, he used to become upset by geography mistakes in thrillers. Syd Jones over at Scene of the Crime always asks his interview subjects if they have ever made any mistakes in setting for which readers have called them to task. The answer is almost always yes. This is something that most novelists dread, almost as frightening as making a gun-related mistake. (See entry below.) And yet, these mistakes are common, though over the years TG has noticed that they have become fewer and less egregious. TG lives in Washington, where an inordinate number of thrillers are set (Note to publishers: TG is heartily sick of seeing covers of thrillers featuring night photos of the Capitol Building. Please, is there no other, cleverer way of saying “Washington?”) Since TG lived in the District of Columbia for many years and now resides nearby, he is acutely aware of these geographical mistakes. One of the worst was when a writer had his hero come out of the Pentagon, go to a coffee shop across the street and then walk down the Mall to the Washington monument. Sorry, there are no coffee shops across from the Pentagon and the hero would have had to walk through the Potomac River to get to the Mall. Terrible mistake. TG has long ago stopped mentioning such errors in his reviews, but it is not wise (publishers, trust me on this) to send out a book that has errors that annoy the reviewer. So thriller writers, when you have a character set out to walk, ride or fly from one location to another, be very very careful.
Mike Lawson is an author who always gets his geography right. Mike has a series set in Washington that stars Senate investigator, political fix-it man Joe DeMarco. DeMarco has a crappy office deep in the bowels of the Capital building and answers only to his boss, John Fitzpatrick Mahoney, Speaker of the House of Representatives and Washington's premier political puppet master. The five books in the series, in order are: The Inside Ring; The Second Perimeter; House Rules; House Secrets; House Justice. There's no reason to read them in order, though TG suggests that you do so, that way one will keep DeMarco's various problems straight. One of the significant joys of the series is the colorful Speaker Mahoney, a Tip O'Neil politician whose outsize flaws approach if not encompass criminality.
While TG has enjoyed every one of these books, he feels that in House Justice, the most recent, Lawson is straying into a “problem” that often besets successful series writers at about this point in their work. Justice is a bit too long, a bit too complicated and a bit too serious. TG would counsel Lawson, not that he's asking, to ease up a bit both on DeMarco and on himself in his next entry in the series. Often it's a good idea to take a break and write a stand-alone (for a writer it can be a good idea, publishers hate it when a tried and true money-maker abandons a cash cow, even for one book) just to get back a little perspective on what was enjoyable about a character and setting in the first place.
Whatever Lawson does, TG will be looking forward to it. For those who want to see how good a Washington thriller can be, check him out. And you can be assured Joe DeMarco never, ever, takes a stroll through the Potomac River.
Posted by Allen Appel at 1:45 PM