Good writing, bad writing, and market forces

What is it that drives some novels to the top of the commercial sales charts while other books wallow in poor sales rankings? What Makes a Blockbuster? Great writing? Maybe not.

Some time ago I published a blog, Lowering the curtain, in which I speculated on when and why the author of a suspense series should end and end. In the article, I mentioned that the writer, Lee Child, was about to publish his 22nd Jack Reacher novel, Midnight line. Well that’s now history and # 23, Last, will be available in November 2018; great news for Lee Child, his publisher and for Jack Reacher fans around the world.

After writing the piece, it occurred to me that I had never read a Jack Reacher novel. And since Lee Child is an apex novelist, with his Jack Reacher series a worldwide bestseller, I decided it was time to correct that anomaly and find out what all the fuss was about. I’d join the crowd and read some Jack Reacher to myself.

I headed downtown Chiang Mai to The Lost Book Shop, my favorite bookstore, and bought five Jack Reacher paperbacks: Killing Floor, The Hard Way, One Shot, Bad Luck and Trouble and Make me Second hand, they were cheap but in good condition. Back home, I got into them.

I started with Slaughter floor, the first in the series. Written in the first person, the story was solid and quite exciting. But, like many of today’s novels, I found him bloated and overweight. My issue weighed 525 pages. I think a good full edit would have cut it down to 350 or even less and delivered a tighter and much more dynamic book.

The next was The hard way followed by Bad luck and problems. Both were disappointing and in my opinion poorly written and edited and with terrible scores. Written in the third person, I was struck by its banality. I found the narrative staccato awkward and full of redundant sentences and too much description of people and places. Many sentences lack verbs. And for me the abundance of one-word sentences and even one-word paragraphs was painful. If you had sent this material to an agent, you would certainly have received an immediate rejection receipt. Then i read Make me And I felt the same I had started to read Deadly shoot when I picked up a copy of Personal what, how Slaughter floor, is written in 1st person. It was good and I enjoyed it to some extent. I never went back to Deadly shoot. And I stopped reading Lee Child.

On second thought, it seems that the series has been written by two different writers. And in a way that’s true. In the third person novels, Lee Child tells the story. In the first-person stories, there are six, the boy hands the pen to Jack Reacher. And Reacher offers the best book.

Writing in the first person allows the writer to have a free hand, the opportunity to break free from many grammatical and syntactic limitations and speak as he feels through his narrator, as Mark Twain did with Huckleberry Finn. The language can be crude or elegant. The narrator can be a friendly Dr. Jekyll or a brutal Mr. Hyde. The character of the protagonist is revealed through the narrative tone. And, of course, Jack Reacher, the lonely, the tough individualistic wanderer, cares no less about the niceties of English grammar and good prose as he tells his story. Right?

I think this freedom is one of the reasons many writers choose to write in the first person. Third-person narrative is a more difficult field with law and order and rules of engagement that the omniscient narrator must adhere to or face consequences. Some writers can switch and write well in both. According to the evidence, Child is not one of them. Lee Child is a free writer who has completely rejected the discipline of grammar rules and guidelines. I think it should have stayed in the first person throughout the series. And that way he could have blamed Jack Reacher for any vulgar and vulgar anomalies.

The old advice “show, don’t tell” is good advice. “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on the broken glass.” (Chekhov). It was the core of Hemingway’s “iceberg skipping theory.” I think it also reveals a writer’s respect for his reader. Of course, a good writer uses both; he shows and also counts. Lee Child prefers to tell it and not introduce himself. And that shows us.

The lack of editing in Lee Child’s novels is chronic. You come across a lot of unedited self-published books on Amazon, where many posts are not even self-published. But Lee Child’s novels come from a publisher. So why didn’t your editors put your editors to work and hold you back? It could be that now that he’s so established, they leave him alone. In an interview, he once commented that his editors are “afraid of making me angry.” Seriously?

Lee Child seems to be a nice guy. He had setbacks and he overcame them. I admire him, and his consequent success is to be applauded. I’m sure you would enjoy a good chat and a few beers with him. In interviews, he is open and honest. You have said you are not looking for awards; its objective is to offer entertainment; his path. And this he does, and his books sell like freshly baked bread in a famine. But why? What gives?

A long time ago, ‘in the past’, he had a sweet girlfriend in Toronto. Clare was highly educated. He loved good books, and his bookshelf revealed a Catholic taste in its mix of classic and contemporary writers. She had read George Eliot’s Middlemarch in college and wrote an essay about it. He admired a great many excellent writers and poets. But he loved Harold Robbins.

Robbins was, and is, one of the best-selling writers of all time, writing more than 25 best-sellers, selling more than 750 million copies worldwide in 32 languages.

Under Clare’s pressure, and to please her, I got into it starting with The Carpetbaggers. I moved to A stone for Danny Fisher and so on. I didn’t read the entire Robbins corpus, but more than a few. And yes, I did enjoy them even though I didn’t rate him too highly as a writer. Like Lee Child, Robbins wrote the way he liked. It seemed like I’d never heard of the ‘point of view’ rule, so you often didn’t know which character was thinking about what.

One day Clare was laying on her couch flipping through the pages of Robbins’ latest book, The adventurers. I made fun of her. I told him that I thought Robbins was not a very writer; shit, really. I expanded on that and she agreed. “You’re right Tony,” he laughed.

“Do you agree?” I said surprised.

“Yes,” he nodded. “I agree.”

“However, did you read it?”

“Yes,” he smiled. “It’s crazy, I know. I can’t explain it, but I can’t put it down.”

Rick Gekowski is a writer, broadcaster, rare book dealer, and former Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Warwick. In 2011 he held the Chair of Judges for the 2011 Man Booker International Fiction Prize. The Guardian The newspaper once said that “Gekowski likes to be surrounded by a class of books better than the rest of us.” Impressive, right?

However, in an article published in The Guardian, Gekowski came out of the closet and confessed to being a Jack Reacher addict who can’t wait to get his hands on Lee Child’s latest novel and devour it. It’s a bit like discovering that a world famous blue cord The chef secretly sneaks out in disguise to a freeway shuttle cafe for greasy burgers and fries loaded with red sauce.

In his article, Gekowski admits that, “… no one, I imagine, values ​​Child for the quality of his prose. One can hardly find, in the entire corpus of the work, a single sentence worthy of independent admiration.” However, like Clare with Robbins, she can’t look down on Lee Child.

One critic accused Child of writing ‘dreck’; a little difficult, but true. In my opinion, Child’s prose is dull, clumsy, overwritten, and uninspiring. Compared to Lee Child, Harold Robbins was a disciplined literary genius. For me as a writer, Child is terribly horrible and the Jack Reacher series is essentially bad writing. An English teacher might well use it in class to demonstrate what NOT to do. But it is ever sold! More than 70 million worldwide. Plus all those Amazon downloads. Wow. But how? It sure hits me like hell.

Here is a question I ask myself. Would the Jack Reacher series be as successful as it is if it were well written and well edited? And answer? Probably not.

Lee Child is British, English and well educated. Speak the language of Shakespeare. So I have to assume that your poor writing and lack of respect for English is deliberate. Obviously, there is a vast market for these things, and Child, with the full compliance of his publisher and his meek editors, is delivering the shit he wants. And get rich in the process. It seems his readers not only don’t care, they seem to even love his literary scum. It’s probably another conspiracy from the publisher. But for me, it is another sad reflection on the brutalization of Western civilization.

The ability to write was the first to fall. Think of college graduates who can’t write a simple job application letter and need to hire professionals to do it. Now it seems that the ability to read well is fading.

So there you have it. Bad writing sells; big time. But I do not advise going there. It is a swamp. Quagmire. Lee Child was lucky; most likely you are not. Do you keep your feet on solid ground and stick to good writing? It’s also being sold, though not quite as frenziedly as the Jack Reacher stuff. But don’t be discouraged. Respect the English language. He is great, tough and virile, with a literature behind that has no equal. Use it well and write to the best of your ability. And make every word count.


Jack Reacher is becoming a small industry. Movies aside, with Tom Cruise making the biggest streaming mistake in movie history, there’s now a Jack Reacher game online. And for that morning cup of tea, Jack Reacher Custom Coffee is available: ‘Robust. Whole body. Battle Tested ‘plus a matching coffee mug to drink.

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