Mark Terry

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

If it can go wrong...

June 15, 2010
I'm reading The Silent Man by Alex Berenson. It's an espionage novel, basically about his recurring character John Wells, trying to stop some al-Qaeda people from building and blowing up an atomic bomb somewhere on US soil.

Berenson is a particular good writer, a meticulous researcher (he was a foreign correspondent for The New York Times) and his sense of pace is generally spot-on.


Now, if you're going to read the novel and are afraid I'm going to screw it up for you, don't read this any further, okay?

#1. Okay. Wells is planning on avenging an attack on him and his fiance by some Russian thugs. He knows it's related to an arms dealer he pissed off in a previous novel. So he changes his appearance, hooks up with a French intelligence agent in Russia who owes Wells's boss a favor, and plans to approach a Russian security company that's tied in to the arms dealer. The French guy thinks he's full of shit, but he owes the guy, so he sets up the meeting. And about 10 seconds after Wells meets with these guys they hold up a photograph of him and tell him they know who he is. And things go downhill from there, big-time. This ploy not only gets him nowhere, but he probably complicates everything else he attempts.

#2. Some Russians, having smuggled two nuclear weapons out of a Russian facility, are killed. Then, the guy masterminding the heist, is transporting the weapons to the U.S.--he can't detonate them, but he plans to use the uranium in them to build his own weapon--and he's on a small boat close to the coast of Canada when they get caught in a storm and one of the weapons isn't tied down properly and, oops!, it goes overboard and is lost.

I've written about the Power of the Thwart numerous times on this blog, but I'm reminded of it again as I read this novel. And I'll put it this way: fiction's always more interesting if things don't go according to plan.

John Lennon rather famously said that "life is what happens while you're making plans" and I agree wholeheartedly. And in fiction, in this much at least, you're better off emulating real life--shit happens, things go wrong, people get sick, people die, people get divorced, bad weather makes things more difficult...

Want to improve your fiction? Screw things up for your characters.


Anonymous Eric Mayer said...

Well I know Mary and I are too easy on our characters. You don't think there's an audience for books that say on the cover: No characters were harmed in making this book?

8:48 AM  
Blogger sex scenes at starbucks, said...

That's so funny. I'm right in the middle of doing that right now. Trinidad has just declared he'd do a single combat to "save everyone" from war. Castile decides to let loose a little secret to sway him from this stupid act of heroism. No, it doesn't sway him, and it goes wrong in other ways, too...

Hey! Maybe I'm actually doing something RIGHT for a change. :D

9:19 AM  
Blogger jazzsoldier said...

I recently read 'The Assassin' by Andrew Britton (he died way too young.). He wrote the Ryan Kealey series which is similar to the John Wells series. Anyway, Britton had the lead female protagonist kill an innocent victim, which affected her throughout the rest of the series. That's something I may not have considered doing in the past.

But life doesn't always goes the way you want it to, and that should happen as well in fiction. I've learned from this lesson and plan to follow it with future novels.

7:17 AM  

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