Tag: Jack Reacher

Jack Reacher

The meaning of everyday things

 A bottle of beer is just a bottle of beer . . . except when it’s not. Sharing a drink with a friend is usually unremarkable, but if the last time you saw that friend, he was going on his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that bottle in his hand is a statement. If you’re one of his family and friends who take the sacrament at church every Sunday, the beer means one thing. If you’re the friend who’s holding your own bottle, it means something else. In a world where we can get almost anything from anywhere, items themselves have become less tethered to place. I order my Ritter Sport chocolate from Amazon, but I remember the days when it was hard to find outside of Germany. For writers, that means it takes a little more effort to convey the meaning of things without over explaining. When you’re introducing readers to a new place, those things matter, but having a light touch is hard (at least for me!). As a reader I love it when an author introduces me to something new about a culture I didn’t know without making too big a deal of it. Linda Castillo did a lovely job of this in Among the Wicked with her all-women quilting sessions. Without saying too much, Castillo made it clear that these gatherings were a little less guarded than they would have been with men present. A quilt was more than just a quilt. The same can be said of Jack Reacher’s famous toothbrush, although in that case the thing conveys the lack of connection to place. Any favorite examples of everyday things that take on special meaning in novels you’re writing or reading? Is the thing connected to place or not?     

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Just off a reading jag and Lee Child owes me a few hours

I took a well-deserved break the other evening and went to a movie. I picked Jack Reacher, Never Go Back as my two hours of entertainment. The problem, and one I should have anticipated, was that once I’d seen the movie I needed to read the book. How did it compare, what changes were made (other than the obvious ones…. how tall is Reacher?). Fortunately (deep irony here), when I went to my book shelf there it was – Lee Child’s Never Go Back in hardcover splendor. I have a lot of books that I’ve bought and not had a chance to read, so there is no shame in an unbroken spine. I thought I’d take a peek at the first chapter or so and get a sense of the difference between movie and manuscript, then get back to work on my own manuscript. It takes me around a minute to read one page of a novel. That’s over four hours to read Never Go Back. In one big chunk of time. I’ll skip the obvious, clearly I enjoyed it. What struck me is how much of Reacher is internal. Jack Reacher the quintessential action hero is actually the quintessential cerebral action hero. How does that translate on screen? How do you show Reacher weighing all of his options and trying to get the bad guy to back down unharmed? Reacher is a loner and loners aren’t the most loquacious people. How do you translate that into film without it becoming a silent picture? Anytime I read I feel like I’m taking a personal master class in writing. With Lee Child it is a master class in picking the exact level of detail to incorporate. In an interview he once said that he skips research. He wants to write what will feel familiar to the reader. If the reader expects the gun to be heavy why interrupt their immersion in the story to explain that ‘technically the xyz revolver is lighter than most in the same category.’ Who cares! At that point in the story, with the gun pointed, all the reader should care about it What Happens Next. Child knows this. Maybe a little of his talent and skill will rub off on me as I re-read my own draft, trying to gauge the details needed for my reader to feel the place. Really feel it. I undergo serial reading more often that I’d like to admit. (A real confession here…. a bit embarrassing… I was on a long flight last week and read three Jack Reacher novels in a row. Yep. In a row. It was like eating a whole bag of candy at Halloween. I blame this on e-books which allow instant gratification. I also blame this on the airline. There was not one single good movie to watch.) Back to the point. Reading a clump of books by one author is instructive. If they have a continuing character you see very clearly how they capture that introduction each time. How much description and backstory is enough? How much does it vary? You judge what the author keeps as part of their style and what is unique to the story being told in that particular book. How do these authors keep us coming back? We want familiarity, but not imitation. In Lee Child’s Never Go Back the story was comfortingly expected, yet fresh. Of course, in the end, I have to remember that I read that last Reacher novel when I should have been writing. Maybe Lee Child will offer a few hours of his time to make up for my writing jag? Writing for me, of course. Or maybe I should count the debt paid, since I certainly learned enough from my read to justify those few hours immersed in someone else’s world. Thank you, Mr. Child. 

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