Sunday, May 22, 2016

Favorites and Formulas

Earlier this week I was meeting with the writer's group and two questions came up simultaneously.  One guy asked about formulas.  "I've read every James Bond book Ian Fleming wrote. They were all the same. Bond meets the girl. Bond fights off the bad guy without getting himself killed. Bond gets the girl. The end. That's predictable," he said.

I pointed out the obvious. "But you kept reading every time. There can be comfort in knowing your protagonist is going to figure it out and survive. People want to see Bond succeed and get the girl!"

One of the others mentioned that the publisher may have preferred Fleming keep with the formula. After all, why tamper with success?  That's the foundation for many series, along with television shows.  Create a formula and if it resonates with your audience, stick with it.

At that point the first guy admitted that Bond was indeed one of his favorite characters.   Everyone threw out names of their characters.  Then they turned to me.

"I can't give you just one," I said. "I can't even give you just one of my own characters. Each one is unique and brings something different to the table. But I can name a few."

Here's a few names from the list.  Penn Cage from Greg Iles.  Thorn from James W. Hall.  Elvis Cole from Robert Crais.   Dismas Hardy from John Lescroart.  Chili Palmer from Elmore Leonard.  Travis McGee from John D. MacDonald.  Jack Reacher from Lee Child.

The group wouldn't let me go on to something else until I named one of my own favorites. So I included Jamie Richmond, my redheaded protagonist.  While each of the three books in the series is unique, I could be accused of a formula here as well.  Jamie gets involved in a criminal matter, refuses to let it go, despite the urging and distractions provided by Malone, until the villain is identified and captured.  If that's a formula, I'm guilty.  But each story has its own twists and turns. Here's an excerpt from "Fleeing Beauty".  In this story, Jamie and her friends are unpacking crates of priceless art work that her late father created.

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This sculpture was titled “Fleeing Beauty”.
It was a woman caught in the act of running. Tendrils of slender marble in various lengths and thicknesses extended from her head, as if they were locks of hair billowing out behind her. Part of her face was obscured, turned against her shoulder as if attempting to hide her features from whoever was chasing her. The woman’s body was voluptuous, full of dangerous curves. There was something haunting about this piece. The guys became quiet, which was unusual. Linda slowly moved around it, taking pictures.
“Holy shit,” Ian muttered.
“Watch your language,” Malone said, cuffing him lightly on the back on the head.
“How did he do that?” Ian said, taking a step away. “She looks real.”
“She looks alive,” Malone said.
“Check the file,” I suggested.
None of us could take our eyes off the sculpture.
We spread the file out on the worktable. There were pictures of a woman standing in front of a drop cloth. She was blonde, with an impish smile on her face. She could have been in her early to middle twenties. It was impossible to tell how tall she was. Her figure was eye catching, with a tiny waist and round hips. Most of the pictures showed her in a one piece bathing suit. There was one where she wore a sheer negligee. There were shots of her standing on a pedestal, others with her arms outstretched, and still others where she was looking over her shoulder. In a couple of photos he must have used a fan to blow her hair back.
“She’s a doll,” Ian said.
“Jamie, I think this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,” Linda said softly.
“You’ll get no argument from me.”


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So the question I didn't ask the writer's group is "which actor is your favorite Bond?"  Here's a couple to choose from.




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