Tricks of the trade

When writing mysteries, horror or anything that requires the building of suspense, every author must use little tricks to put the protagonist in a suspenseful situation. The difficulty is putting these tricks into the story without making them stand out. They must be seamless. The writer does not want his reader thinking, “Why did the author bring up the fact that this character is a renowned glockenspiel player?”, and then find out that the murder was committed by the victim being bludgeoned to death by a glockenspiel. It will stand out and seem contrived.
John Grisham (my wife’s favorite author) had trouble with seamlessness in his earlier books. In his novel, The Pelican Brief, Darby Shaw writes a brief speculating on who killed two Supreme Court justices. So now the evil oil tycoon who had the justices killed decides she must be killed. Why? She is just a law student who has no power. Her brief is already out there. What does killing her accomplish other than giving credibility to her brief? We are expected to believe that this oil tycoon is an evil genius, yet he is not smart enough to figure this out? Mr. Grisham wanted to fill the book with Darby running away from her assassins, and that was the trick he used to do it. While I’m on Grisham novels, his first bestseller, The Firm, had a trick that stood out for me. Mitchell McDeere was hired out of law school by a small firm. They paid him a boat load of money and benefits to get him into the firm. He learns that several lawyers in the firm have died from mysterious accidents. Later an FBI agent approaches him and tells him the firm he is working for is employed by the mafia. The firm finds out he was approached and they decide Mitchell needs to be killed. Why? Mitchell doesn’t know anything that will help the FBI. He wasn’t even aware that the mafia had dealings with the firm until the FBI told him. They fire the other associates that were just hired with the firm, but Mitchell has to be killed. Why not just fire him too? It was Grisham’s way of getting Mitchell to run away from hitmen for the rest of the book. It worked, but it wasn’t seamless.
Stephen King (one of my favorite authors) is a very good storyteller, but even he sometimes loses his seamlessness. In Pet Semetary, Louis Creed’s wife, Rachel, is rushing back home to prevent her husband from doing the unthinkable. Suddenly a mysterious force is trying to prevent her from reaching her destination. Up until this point in the book the cemetery had no powers beyond its own borders, and now it reaches out miles away. Mr. King did it to build suspense, but it seemed a bit contrived, perhaps having her airplane have engine problems would have been more seamless.
Judging by the popularity of all three novels, the reading public didn’t notice or care about the lack of seamlessness. I guess being a writer makes me more aware of the tricks of the trade than the average reader.

Just wanted to announce that I am giving away two copies of my novel, In The Sticks, at Good Reads.  Go to the site and sign up.  Your chances are as good as anybody’s.


About thewritingdeputy

Joel Jurrens was a deputy sheriff for 26 years until he retired in 2013. He has published three novels: In The Sticks, Graves of His Personal Liking and County Ops: The Vengeance of Gable Fitzgerald. He tries to keep his blog light and humorous and sometimes downright silly.
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