Telling a Story vs. Writing a Story – The Killing Floor

Killing Floor” by Lee Child is my first book by this author. I wanted to read this book to understand Jack Reacher. Half way through the book, I realized that the book was an education. It made me ask a very important question and discover its rather delightful answer.

The question was:

Why Killing Floor remains such a readable book despite breaking two basic rules of good writing?

  1. The sentences are clipped incredibly short. So short, that sometimes they are just about two or three words long. They dwindle into phrases, snatched and thrown at the reader – like the writer is in a tearing hurry to tell his story and begone.

Here’s a sample page:

killing-floor-jack-reacher-lee-child-magic-of-short-sentences

2. Most of the times, the writer doesn’t bother himself with finding the right verb to convey the feeling or the emotion. He just uses whatever he can find – mostly, “said,” and “ask.”

killing-floor-jack-reacher-lee-child-repetitive-verbs-dont-matter

And yet, here I am. Not just reading the book but enjoying it too. Why?

Here’s a list of possible reasons:

  1. The story is strong. [Spoiler Warning.] First, we see an innocent man being hauled up and arrested by the police, and we start wondering what tricks he might pull to get out of the jam. Then we learn that the dead man was the protagonist’s brother. Next we see a few macabre deaths, and then, right in the middle of the book, when we expect to help to arrive, another killing makes us realize that things are exceptionally bad. (I’m at this point right now.)
  2. The voice belongs to Jack Reacher. I think that this might be the reason why the shotgun sentences don’t trouble me. The novel is written in first person, and so the whole narrative is supposed to be in Jack Reacher’s voice. The voice belongs to a man in a tearing hurry. Someone who notices his environment only to catalog the people and objects that populate it.
  3. As we “see” the story unfold through Reacher’s eyes, we see only what he notices and chooses to tell us about. We are Reacher’s invisible companions. We feel his urgency and appreciate his need to focus. We feel his impatience through his short sentences. Thus, what may be considered a shortcoming in say, a fantasy novel, becomes a strength of a first-person thriller narrative.

I believe that readers of fiction want read a story, experience its bumps and troughs, and feel the emotions of the protagonist…and only if all this is in order, they want to be awed by fabulous descriptions and flawless language. For most readers, this order cannot be changed.

This is why “Killing Floor” launched Jack Reacher. Because…

Story is the soul of fiction – writing is merely one of the ways of telling a story.

 

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