Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pink Mist and Burritos

In Thriller Guy's last entry he asked for readers to supply some alternative to the tired cliché used to describe someone who has just been head shot: “His head disappeared into a pink mist.” How about this from a novel TG recently reviewed: “She saw his head explode like a burrito in a microwave.” A little over the top, and probably not true, but TG kinda likes it. Later on in the same book the author gives us: “His head exploded as if touched by the hand of God.” Nice. Unfortunately, the rest of the book was just rehashed thriller tropes. TG hates to say it, but he is really getting sick of reading novels that are just more the same: head shots, females in peril, the hero's family is always killed so he first quits the life, retires to a shack on the beach and lets his beard grow until he is coaxed back into service to avenge his loved ones and save America. The villains are always the same -- Arab terrorists attempting to restore the Caliphate, their families (brother, mother, father) have been killed years earlier by the Crusaders; evil industrialists who feel that America is headed down the wrong path and can only be saved by their ultra-conservative agenda, suitcase nukes (in reality the half life in these Russian bombs has run out and they are now longer workable), various bio weapons, suicide bombers, blah blah blah blah. It makes TG tired to even write such a list, which could go on and on.

Yes, it's tough coming up with an original plot. TG has faced this problem himself and recommends to those flailing about for an original premiss to just say no to writing anything until you come up with something new. If your book never gets written, then that's a plus; one more unoriginal thriller that TG doesn't have to slog through. One more bad review that TG doesn't have to write. Anyone who thinks that reviewers like to write bad reviews, that it's “fun” are sadly mistaken. Bad books are difficult to read, the pages seem endless, and saying they are bad in print always feels as if one were trampling on some writer's dreams and children. And then there is the feeling one experiences when one has, sadly, tried to warn readers away from a book only to see it rocket to the top of the best seller list. This is not in any way a new phenomena – bad books selling millions of copies – but it doesn't ever get easier to take by those who enjoy well-written books and who are paid to help others of like mind find these books and warn them away from the stinkers.

Which is why TG always tries to simply describe a book so that those who like a particular sort of book can be alerted to when one comes along. But it is a reviewer's duty, usually in the first line or two, to say whether a writer has succeeded or failed. TG tries to be helpful with his criticism; TG tries to not rub it in. But... A recent book under review featured a villain who at one point is trying to get a woman to tell him something. He tortures her for awhile. When that doesn't work (the woman doesn't know anything to tell) he pokes out the eyes of the woman's eleven year old daughter while the woman watches. Really, does anyone really need to read this sort of thing? Does this sort of heinous behavior make a reader say to himself, gee, that's really cool, this man is really bad. I love this book. But does TG's personal repugnance at this sort of overkill (pun intended) allow him to let these feelings color his review? No, it does not, but fortunately those authors who go to those lengths almost always fail in many other ways, thus garnering a poor review in any case. Yes, TG knows he has railed about this before, but it never seems to go away. Thoughts?

This weeks Gunfire Hall of Shame: “The hailstorm of automatic weapon fire that slammed into his body sent him dancing off the floor like a marionette.”


  1. Okay, the deal is, I am taking all those plot cliches you totted off and am running with them. Damn, I wanted to read that book. Damn, I may have already written that book. Problem here is lack of contact with your product area; if writers don't read a lot, they don't know that they're being a copycat.

  2. The bigger question is: why do publishers pay authors to write this stuff? We know that good writing seems to pass the publishers by --is the "sameness" and "familiarity" you describe required to sell a book these days? Are there any publishers reading your blog who'd care to comment??

  3. Wounds vary, but close contact, large caliber gunshot wounds to the head are disturbing to say the least. That is your first visceral reaction is surprise. It stays with you, and eventually when you see it enough times you become clinically adapted to it, but your first reaction is that you didn't know a human being's head, face - could end up with that kind of deformation. Large, dark red holes, face or jaw collapsed in on itself - it's the damage that is shocking - and that is not always immediately apparent. The unfortunate state trooper in the movie Fargo was realistically portrayed. The aftermath of shotguns, rifles, pistols - there are plenty of photos of this on the internet if someone really wants to know, but the part that a writer only needs to convey is the emotional reaction, I think.