Monday, 21 July 2014

Private L.A. by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan

It was  nearing midnight that late-October evening on a dark stretch of beach in Malibu.

Exposition that is pure setting doesn't work for me. Exposition that introduces character and conflict does. I want to know what the story is about before when and where the story takes place, unless of course the setting is strife with conflict. This one isn't. I suppose there are some people who would feel differently, who would be very put out because they understand nothing of a story if they don't get the when and where first. But the essence of a story is things happening to people. That's just me, digging the essence of things first.

The next sentence:

Five men, lifelong surfers, lost souls, sat around a fire blazing in a portable steel pit set into the sand.

The lost souls bit is a little strange and needs some explaining. One possible inference being that they are lost souls because they are surfers.

First thing said:

"Bomber weed, N.P."

Then we learn that at least one of the five men had done two tours in Iraq and was incapable of love, hence the lost soul reference. A bit cliche, Terminator style, but anyway, these men sit around the fire so their back stories can unfold. In the second chapter of the prologue they are killed with a Glock! So there we have it, another violent prologue that fails to hook.

Chapter 1:

Shortly after midnight, as the first real storm of the season intensified outside, the lovely Guin Scott-Evans and I were sitting on the couch at my place, watching a gas fire, drinking a first-class bottle of Cabernet, and good-naturedly bantering over our nominees for sexist movie scene ever.

Exposition is fine if it's setting up conflict. This, however, reads like a Marlboro advert from the 1970's. Then, horror of horrors, we actually get the whole conversation of them discussing the sexist movie scene, like, ever. As if I care. This goes on for all of chapter 1, mercifully broken up, unfortunately, with back story until finally at the end, after being forced to go through this totally uninteresting character "development" to have the phone ring so the narrator can be told about the dead bodies in the prologue. Mindless character development, for the sake of character development never hooks.

Here's an idea: why not develop characters with them reacting to the difficult circumstances of the inciting event that's riddled with conflict? At least then it would be fun and not sound like one's reading pre-adolescent Flaubert struggling to inflate a story so as to buy another round of Botox treatments for his beloved grandmother.

Opening outline:

- Prologue: Mysterious men on a beach are discussing random things, getting drunk and high until they are mysteriously slaughtered by one of the mysterious men - who is sort of like the strong silent type who Americans love reading about and watching on TV or the big screen, but hate hanging out with and ignore in real life, as these strong silent types come off as rude and arrogant.

-Chapter 1: Two people are getting romantic talking about sexy scenes in movies, and are also drinking, until the phone rings and they are informed of what happened in the prologue.

There's a formula here (slaughter to sexy) and I expect the bestselling writers will continue with what works. I don't expect the market will reject this formula as the consumers who make up this mass market read on average only three books a year and so will never read enough to discover that this has been done a million times before.

Books today don't shine a light on the soul of the reader like they used to. Quite the opposite; it's as if we are scared of reading good literature for fear of what we might find inside ourselves.

Verdict: Fail

Rudy Globird

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