The school of Jack Reacher. Five writing skills I’ve learned reading bestselling author Lee Child.
August 5, 2014
Like a bazillion other people, I love the Reacher books by Lee Child and am in awe of Child’s talent for crafting tight, tense thrillers.
The Reacher books are so engrossing and enjoyable I find it hard to slow down and analyze what makes them brilliant. But when I do take time to pause and study, I learn a lot. I know Child’s writing has influenced my work, including my new sci-fi thriller, EXODUS 2022.
Here are five things Jack Reacher (and Lee Child) have taught me about writing:
START STRONG. All of the Reacher books start with a bang. An opener so compelling you simply have to keep reading to find out what happens next. A film analogy for this might be the 007 films. All of the Bond films I’ve seen start with a stupendous, heart-pounding action sequence that keeps you glued to the scene. Child accomplishes the same thing with the opening chapter of each of his books.
KEEP IT SIMPLE. I don’t know if Child is an “Elements of Style,” fan or not but I’m sure Strunk and White would applaud his work. Child’s writing embodies this advice from that famous book: Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not the writer make all his sentences short, or he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but he make every word tell.
END EACH CHAPTER WITH A HOOK. Child is a master at keeping the reader guessing and on the edge of his or her seat. He manages to advance the story in every chapter and wrap up each segment with a cliffhanger
DO YOUR HOMEWORK. The Reacher stories are action-adventure/military crime thrillers and it’s clear—when Child is talking about the U.S. Army, weapons, ballistics, interrogation, forensics, etc., that he knows his subject matter inside and out. He also has a knack for making the most obscure information (say, for example, about highway expansion joints) seem relevant and fascinating.
MAKE YOUR HERO HUMAN. Jack Reacher is a heroic character but he is not invincible, and has numerous quirks and flaws. He occasionally gets hurt. He often winds up in jail. He makes mistakes. He follows a lifestyle most people would find unimaginably austere. All of these things combine to make Reacher endearing, memorable and likeable.
Child, in an article describing how he sees the writer’s job, said: “Voice is literally the voice of the narrator. The written word is new. People have listened to stories for millennia. Your voice is the voice of the storyteller around the campfire. Our writing is an imitation of an audible experience."
I find this quote inspiring because it reminds of my task and to keep things simple.
Have you learned from Lee Child or other authors? Please share your thoughts.