When reading fiction, I normally stick with sci-fi and fantasy, but I’ve decided to look into other genres, to see what their authors are up to. I’m planning to do a few of these posts, and in my head I’ve been calling the project “Reading Outside the Lines”.
I decided to start with a thriller. “Poseidon’s Arrow” is an odd choice, as it’s book 22 in a series which I haven’t read. However, my mom wanted to read it, so I bought her a copy, and also read it myself. She had read earlier books in the series, but had to jump ahead to this one when she saw the PBY on the cover (her father flew a PBY during WWII). Here’s what I found in my first thriller novel:
Keep in mind that I’m a regular reader of science fiction. Some things I wouldn’t even bat an eye at: human clones with accelerated growth in vats, instantaneous faster-than-light travel between star systems, an alien invasion of Earth, robots deciding to kill all humans because someone coded a semicolon in the wrong place, etc.. I couldn’t buy into this novel, though, despite its lack of advanced technology or aliens.
In one of the opening chapters, pirates have boarded a merchant ship, stolen its cargo, kidnapped its crew, and left it sailing along unsupervised. Weeks later, it just happens to pass within yards of a sailboat on which Clive Cussler … I mean Gary Stu … I mean Dirk Pitt … is vacationing. Dirk Pitt is an oceanographer and James-Bond-style super-agent of the US government, I gather. He races aboard the freighter and manages to stop it before it crushes the passengers of a cruise ship. Anyway, the ocean’s a pretty big place, so I wasn’t buying into a ship with nobody at the helm just happening to brush by the sailboat of the free world’s number one aquatic agent.
While Pitt is tracking down the bad guy (a Bond-villain type, using murder and slavery to pursue his goal of cornering the market in rare earths) to his lair in Central America, his children are doing some unrelated marine research in the Indian Ocean, and they just happen to stumble across the villain’s backup lair, so they can be chased around by his henchmen.
After the kids escape, they just happen to stumble across an abandoned U-boat that’s been floating in the ocean undetected since WWII. The U-boat is full of a cargo of, you guessed it, rare earths. Were those even industrially useful in the 1940s? I’m guessing they weren’t.
Gary Stu crosses the genre boundary
Dirk Pitt has to personally hero-solve every situation, unless it happens on the other side of the world, where his son can take care of it. At one point, he is sent along with a US Coast Guard SWAT team to ambush the pirates. The pirates manage their own ambush instead, capturing everyone. Pitt is the only one who puts up a fight before being captured. Later, when they escape, it’s again Pitt who does 100% of the fighting. The good guys get captured and escape numerous times during the novel — how many times does the average villain let the same guy escape before sending out a “no prisoners” memo?
At one point, during a car chase in Mexico, Pitt crashes his car into a bullfighting ring. A bull is loose and might trample someone, so despite the assumed presence of numerous matadors and picadors and such, it’s Pitt who has to get out there and play dodge ’em with the bull’s horns.
Infodumping isn’t just for SFF
I had thought infodumping was a peculiarity of sci-fi and fantasy, because the author had to explain an entirely different world where the story takes place. Apparently, I was wrong. In “Poseidon’s Arrow”, when a major new character appears, the story pauses to infodump their entire professional resume and the history of their love-life.
Advice for authors
Now that I have read a total of one thrillers, I feel that I have amassed sufficient expertise to share with you my
guaranteed-to-succeed (guarantee unavailable in your location) formula for making millions writing thriller novels:
- Ignore all writing advice from courses, books, and blogs, especially this blog.
- Set your word processor to ding every x hundred words. When it dings, stop whatever you were writing and insert an action scene, even if it makes no sense. If you were already writing an action scene, then a different action scene breaks out in the middle of the original action scene.
- Each scene must be set in an exotic location. A different exotic location.
- Every problem, no matter how Earth-shattering or how trivial, must be solved by the hero.
- At least one sexy female character must make an appearance, even if your story includes no romance or sex.
That’s all there is to it. Get out there and start raking in those millions.