The beauty that is Jack Reacher

 

Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books are gems. If you haven’t picked one up (his latest is Night School) then do yourself a favor – get a copy and sit down to read it, but make sure you have a spoon handy so you can enjoy every last bit.

night-schoolI’ve been asked to review Night School for a publication and for that review I’ll be talking about characterization and plot (both excellent) but for this review I want to talk about Child’s writing style.

In a nutshell Child follows the philosophy of – “less is more.”

Child uses short sentences. All the time. Instead of explaining how a situation is affecting Reacher, he’ll use techniques like repetition to “show” us, what Reacher is thinking about. Like this passage which is repeated several times as a way to describe how he views a woman he is working with:

Taller than average, but no wider.

The black dress, the pearls, the nylons, the shoes.

The face, and hair, combed with her fingers.

Looking good.

Reacher is literally fixated on this woman.

In just a few words we know so much about the character Reacher. He’s smart, he’s analytical, he pays attention to detail. He notices things. Think how less effective it would have been if we had been given a full and detailed description of the woman – we would have seen her from the author’s point of view and not the character’s. In stating only the important details, Child lets our minds fill in the blanks.

Here’s another passage where repetition (attention to detail) is effectively used:

“Then he dug in his pocket and gave the guy five American dollars, and asked, “Do you have a phone?”

The guy pointed at the wall. An old Ma Bell pay phone. All metal. For outside a gas station rather than inside a barbershop, but points for effort.

Reacher said, “Does it work?”

“Of course it works,” the guy said. “This is Germany. It was rewired as a normal telephone.”

Reacher dialed the number on Griezmans’ business card. From the envelope with the fingerprint. He got ring tone. The phone worked. Germany. Rewired. “

By using such clipped sentences and observations, Child leads us through the story in real life as the main character experiences it. It’s really an extraordinary writing style which not only gives us a front seat to Reacher, but which also helps the book’s pace race along.

As writers you should be constantly reading and analyzing other works. It’s part of the job. Writing in short sentences and clips may not be the best style for you, but knowing what it can do and how powerful it can be means that if you understand the technique, you can keep it in your tool box to pull out when needed.

Give yourself a treat and go read Night School but along with that spoon, bring a highlighter so that you can take notes on some of the best writing around. Trust me, you won’t be sorry.

***

Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com) She writes about her chickens for GRIT, Backyard Poultry, Chicken Community, and Mother Earth News.

7 thoughts on “The beauty that is Jack Reacher

  1. I’ve read two “Jack Reacher” novels. I enjoyed both more than I thought I would. What comes to mind was that I like the forward momentum of his style. He shares that quality with Dick Francis. My favorite writers are a mixed bag: Vladimir Nabakov, Patrick O’Brian, Terry Pratchett, Lois McMaster Bujold, Mark Helprin, Diana Gabaldon. With the exception of Pratchett, all have a style that uses longer sentences, and a lot of detail. However, your review intrigued me enough to reread Lee Child more closely to see how he does what he does,

    • I haven’t read any of Lee Child’s work – yet – but I am a fan of Dick Francis. Your right, Francis writes in a spare style that is refreshing. It moves the story right along. I’m going to have to read some of Child’s work now.

      • One of my failings as a writer is overuse of the passive voice. Reading Dick Francis helped me improve my writing because I imitated as best I could his style of using active verbs.

  2. I am working my way through the Jack Reacher books. I’ve read the first four and am on the fifth. What I find is that they are consistently good right from the first one. Child’s style of writing is amazing considering he is not a native of the U.S. His narrative describes the areas of the country that Reacher travels through perfectly. It reminds me of the way Sir Arthur Conan Doyle vividly wrote about the American countryside in some of his books. It was an unexpected surprise. I’m glad to see Child has kept up the quality in his later books. I will continue reading them.

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