Tuesday, March 11, 2008

You keep using that word...

I do not think it means what you think it means.

Inigo Montoya introduces my latest comment on debut novelist Dave White's blog. Dave writes:

Been listening to THE FIRST COUNSEL by Brad Meltzer on my iPod lately, and it got me thinking about how bestselling thrillers are written. And by that I mean the marketable, cookie cutter, bestselling thriller. I'm actually really enjoying the novel as I listen, but some of the language in it is a bit odd.

...Especially in situations of down time. People are always "shoving" papers in his face, and he's always "racing" down the hall. He rarely jogs or walks. Nothing is ever just handed to him. Everything is completely urgent at all times.

Maybe it's the audiobook format, but I'm really noticing it with this novel. And I don't have the books to back up my theory, but I suspect it's like this in a lot of the other books that make the bestseller lists.


Because everything is urgent, even when there's no suspense, false suspense is created. It keeps you turning the pages. The reader is thinking "Oh the character is racing, something must be going on." It's always a moment of high tension. It's always exciting.

What kills me though, is at times it's false suspense. Much like the last scene in The Sopranos, nothing comes of it. It's almost a let down. Characters don't change enough and there's rarely a payoff.

But yet I already purchased THE ZERO GAME to listen to as well, so obviously it's working.

What do you guys think? Is there a certain vocabulary that goes along with a bestseller that you won't find in real life or even other suspense novels?

I commented:

I think it's a question of good and bad writing, not a distinction between bestsellers and other books. The authors may be trying to create tension, as you say in the original post. Then again...they may just not have the vocabulary to use different words in different situations. Not to say that one should vary vocabulary whenever possible (e.g. said, answered, asked, snapped, sniveled, shouted) because that's just as glaring.

...I don't think the quality of suspense depends on the payoff. If the suspense keeps you reading, it's good. If the payoff is a letdown, the suspense may have been for naught, but it was still good suspense.


Dave White said...

I totally disagree. I don't think good or bad writing makes a bestseller. Come on, we all think that there are some poorly written novels that make the bestseller list.

But at the same time, is it possible that some of the vocabulary is dictating suspense, making minor scenes more intense, when they don't necessarily need to be, which makes the book more of a page turner.

And for the record, I did not think First Counsel was necessarily badly written.

Gerald So said...

What are you disagreeing with?

I said vocabulary is an issue for everyone, bestsellers and all. Any writer can fall into using the same words again and again or using the wrong word and thus delivering the wrong image. So some of the writers you think are trying to trump up tension may simply have the wrong words for a given situation. Anytime a writer doesn't deliver the image or effect intended, it's bad writing.