Jude Hardin

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Guest Blogger Mark Terry



Is this a great looking cover, or what? I know Mark's excited about it, and I am, too, because the same artist is going to do the cover for my book!

I first "met" Mark Terry a few years ago on Joe Konrath's Blog. He has always struck me as a no-nonsense kind of guy, and very knowledgeable about contemporary genre fiction. His latest novel, the third in the Derek Stillwater series, came out this month and I'm reading it now. I'll give it a full review when I finish, but for now let me just say that the opening rocks.

Mark has been kind enough to stop by for a few words of wisdom today, so let's all give him a warm welcome. Take it away, Mark.

Launched Roller Coaster

Old fogey that I am, I remember when the only roller coasters around were ones where your car had to be hauled to the top of the hill via a chain before you could get that wild ride. From a physics point of view, the long haul up the hill stores the energy that is used for the rest of the ride.

Over the last 10 years or so something called a “launched roller coaster” or sometimes a “catapult coaster” has come into vogue. Off the top of my head, the one I’ve ridden on most recently was the Aerosmith Rockin’ Roller Coaster at Disney World. Basically, instead of the click-click-click ride up to the top of the hill, anticipation building, a hydraulic pump (or other varieties of propulsion systems) launch you from about 0 miles per hour to about 80 mph in about a second. Whiplash alert!

No, this isn’t all about roller coasters.

It’s about novels. You’ve got two choices (at least) when starting a novel. You can do a slow build or you can launch the reader. Typically, a “launch the reader” approach utilizes in media res, which is a Latin phrase that means “into the middle of affairs.” That is to say, you start your novel right in the middle of action and explain it all later.

I’m an advocate of in media res, but that’s largely because I’m writing very fast-paced thriller novels. I set the tone and pace by giving a reader a sense of speed and adrenaline right from the beginning (and try not to let up for the rest of the book). (I’m probably also impatient). My latest novel, THE FALLEN, starts with a sniper on a hillside watching a security checkpoint for the G8 Summit. Within a couple pages he’s dead and so are a bunch of other people. I launched, baby.

Although it works for me and the types of books I write, it’s not the only way, or even necessarily the best way. There’s a lot to be said for seducing the reader into the story. A little romance, a little flowers, maybe dinner, candlelight…. I think this works best for many different types of books, including straight mysteries, romance, and many books aimed at kids. Just don’t wait too long to get things moving or your agent, editor, and readers may give up, not a good thing.

For instance, in the Harry Potter novels, although as a reader it sometimes drove me crazy, the novels almost always started out with Harry living with his aunt and uncle in the Muggle world. The fun started when he finally got to Hogwarts. But JK Rowling was establishing the difference between the Muggle world and Hogwarts, she was showing the reader how different Harry’s life was between the two extremes. And that’s important, particularly in novels where a character is moving to a very different environment.

Now, I’m reading Jude’s novel in manuscript, POCKET-47, and like many PI novels, it starts out with some seduction: introducing the character, the setting, a client shows up, the case is presented, then we move on. Robert B. Parker wrote about 50 bestselling novels using the same approach. It works fine. And Jude’s book (and no, I don’t know yet what the title refers to) appears very character-driven, and an engaging character he is, too, rather than plot-driven. The seduction works well as complications build (insert sex metaphor of your choice here).

Can you give examples of each one?

10 Comments:

Blogger LurkerMonkey said...

Nice analogy ... I like the launches to start also, but lately I think I've been moving away from that toward a slower, more character-based opening.

8:45 AM  
Blogger Debra L Martin said...

I write with a co-author and we both like the launch approach. Our novels are action adventure science fiction so the more action the better.

When reading, I like both approaches. I'll read 2 different authors at the same time, one for each approach. This way it keeps me interested in both books.

10:14 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I would note that Stephen King doesn't seem to launch much. It may be that for horror, you really need to set a mood and tone. With certain types of thrillers, the mood and tone tends to be enhanced by a launch.

11:05 AM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

I love writing the Harry Potter way, too, but I'm always afraid to do it, for fear of boring a reader.

Of course, I love the other way, too!

11:23 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Natasha,
I know I'm always afraid of boring the reader. That really influences how I approach writing novels, for better or worse. Sometimes I feel like I have a deep-seated distrust that the reader will stick with me if I don't do something dramatic all the time.

12:59 PM  
Blogger Stephen Parrish said...

My (in progress) interview with Mark opens with a comment about how fast he is out of the gate. Nobody does it better than him.

1:11 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Yeah, Stephen, that's what my wife says.

7:31 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

With either approach, I think it's important to remember we're telling a story, with a beginning, a middle, and ending, and not just a series of action sequences. In media Res might pertain to a bomb exploding (Leighton Gage's Dying Gasp), or a starving woman considering the fate of her cat (Tom Rob Smith's Child-44). Either way, it's the inciting incident that gets the ball rolling, and should be as close to the beginning as possible.

Nice post, Mark. Best of luck with The Fallen!

10:48 AM  
Anonymous Jim said...

It's in medias res, not in media res.

Many (many!) years ago I flunked Latin in high school but I was a lit major in grad school.

Other than that pedantic note, I agree with what you had to say. Certainly you do use the in medias res opening to excellent effect in The Fallen -- and, indeed, a roller coaster ride of a story follows.

9:45 AM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Hi Jim. Thanks for the Latin lesson. I'll try to remember that.

11:03 PM  

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