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Insights gleaned from reading a bestseller

Just another Living in Cyn book review: Without Remorse, by Tom Clancy

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by Cynthia T. Luna in Books I Read, Creative writing
Insights from Bestselling Master. A book review of Tom Clancy's Without Remorse

The number 1 piece of advice experienced writers share with aspiring authors is: read. It’s sound advice. Any bestselling master will tell you that reading is among their top activities as a writer. But there’s reading and there’s… active reading. My guess is that bestselling authors do a lot of both.

Somewhere along the way, I have moved from (almost exclusively) reading books on the craft of storytelling to actively studying the craft of a story written.Book review, Tom Clancy's Without Remorse

My recent return from a two-week vacation replete with sloth and laziness in Ibiza witnessed a surge in attention and attentiveness. In this post, I note how one bestselling author demonstrates his mastery “showing” tension to make up for inactivity in suspenseful plot sequences. I share my findings in this blog post.

Learning by reading the work of a bestselling master, Tom Clancy

I just finished reading Tom Clancy’s thriller novel, Without Remorse(1993, Amazon UK). The story takes place during the Vietnam War. It’s about an ex-Navy SEAL, named John Kelly, who decides to take revenge on a fast-growing drug ring that uses women as mules for heroine distribution.

Without getting into too much detail, the brutal murder of Pamela Madden becomes Kelly’s reason for taking the law into his own hands. John Kelly becomes a vigilante, determined to break up the drug ring that enslaved and tortured Pam.

In spite of an arguably slow start and multiple subplots – which at first can be a bit confusing – I was very satisfied with author Clancy’s story overall. Once I had settled into the plot, Without Remorse took me on John Kelly’s journey. This was pulled off in the way a television crime series gets you hooked. The author solves a series of small mysteries, while dropping breadcrumbs for a larger, more ominous mystery to be solved.

5 PlumesAs the third quarter neared its end, I was hooked and had a hard time putting the book down. The perfect summer read: high entertainment value, full of unexpected twists, and long enough to take you on a journey. My take: it’s an excellent book to kick off a series. I intend to continue reading more in this series into the near future.

A good plot needs tension, conflict

As a writer, and aspiring novelist, I took note of some of the action sequences. One of the things that stood out was that many of them didn’t include much activity at all. Heartening!

The real action – the suspense – takes place when the conflict, the tension, is made clear.

For example, I could go to great lengths describing a dog chasing a man. But if I don’t make clear how a caged dog had been abused, starved and trained to hunt intruders — or if I haven’t established how the man had taunted the dog with a meatball sub just as the cage’s door came unhinged…

That’s one of the things that this bestselling master does in Without Remorse. Say what you will about the heft of the book or the unforgivable and (at times) unbelievable errors John Kelly commits to set his plot in motion. He uses all 600-plus pages to stage tension.

As loose ends are tied, the last quarter of the book showcases Clancy’s ability to set the stage for a few page-turning, thrilling scenes that (again) don’t require much activity or even displacement. I’ll be (ahem) tearing a few pages from this book in my own writing.

Like to get writing tips?

So do I! Sometimes, I figure out a small writing trick while reading. Other times, I’ll glean them while writing. Here are a couple blog posts I wrote especially for the pantsers among us who may benefit from a few plotting tips:

Check them out and send me your tips, if you’ve stumbled upon an idea that’s especially effective!

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Download my free WRITERS' TRACK SHEET

What gets measured gets managed. Amp up your writing speed today!

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