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Sunday, May 12, 2013

Lee Child - Analysis of Author's Writing and Openings

Okay, I confess, Lee Child is my favorite writer.  He's the only author that literally makes me anxious and antsy until his newest book comes out.  I snapped up Lee's two Reacher ePub shorts just as quickly, and enjoyed both as much as the full novels.

A few things I admire about Lee:  His writing style, personal style, and glibness in interviews.

A few things I do not admire about Lee:  (She said nothing)

The author is widely known for his clean, stripped down style, and as a fellow writer, I wanted to take a deeper look at what makes his writing tick, or should I say tickle?  The results were surprising:
Opening Lines:
Lee consistently makes the openings interesting
He has great flow from sentence to sentence that forces you to read the next one, and the next one.
He always poses a story question of some kind on the first page.

Of his seventeen novels written, the length of the opening lines varies greatly:
  • 9 open with sentences of ten words or less
  • 5 are eleven to sixteen words long
  • 3 are over seventeen words 
  • The shortest is 1 word, the longest 27 words.
My five favorite opening lines are:
  • Killing Floor:  I was arrested in Eno's diner. At Twelve o'clock. I was eating eggs and drinking coffee.
  • Die Trying:  Nathan Rubin died because he got brave. Not the sustained kind of thing that wins you a medal...
  • Without Fail:  They found out about him in July and stayed angry all through August.
  • The Hard Way:  Jack Reacher ordered espresso, double, no peel, no cube, foam cup, no china and before it arrived at his table he saw a man's life change forever.
  • Gone Tomorrow:  Suicide bombers are easy to spot.  They give out all kinds of telltale signs.
The opening paragraphs of Lee’s 17 stories contain the following elements, with a mark for each element used:
Present in 1st paragraph
# of stories present in
Character desc
None of above
(Running Blind)

Of the 17 full-length novels written (data from Killing Floor through A Wanted Man):

  • 5 stories start in Reacher’s POV.
  • 6 stories start in ‘narrative’ mode, not in any specific characters POV.
  • 6 stories start in ‘other characters’ POVs. 

The biggest lesson I learned from this analysis of Lee's work is that he mixes things up.  He doesn’t always follow the rules, and his stories/writing benefit tremendously from it. 
It’s now clear why the author is widely lauded for his writing style. That’s for damn sure.
Thanks for the wonderful stories and the great lesson on writing craft, Lee!

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