on 16 December 2008
Why wasn't there a book like this available when I first started writing? Despite the rather unprepossessing cover, contained herein are plenty of useful tips for the would-be author, neatly broken down into bite-size chunks of information. Chris Wood doesn't talk down to his audience and while the majority of his references are cinematic, they are perfectly relevant to anyone taking their first steps into the minefield of thriller writing.
I would recommend this book as a handy source of reference to writers at all stages of their craft, but particularly for those who are just starting out, because that's when this kind of input is most needed. I'm looking forward to an upcoming volume which takes the same approach to horror.
I'm withholding one star for that dull as ditch water cover, which really doesn't do the material justice. Author, take note! Get a designer on the case.
author of the Sebastian Darke adventures & The Eye Of The Serpent
on 26 January 2009
While the self-publishing industry has created opportunities for thousands of aspiring writers to share their creative visions with the world, many of the works I've been paid to read simply do not belong in the public arena. Thankfully, there is now a terrific resource available to help ensure that your forthcoming book won't be one of them.
As the title states, The Ingredients of a Good Thriller provides would-be authors with an ingredient list for creating a novel that people will not only want to read, but also be happy to shell out their hard earned money for the privilege of doing so. It's not a recipe book, merely a list of elements necessary to develop your own formula, but extraordinarily useful nevertheless. As a longtime reviewer for Clarion Reviews and ForeWord Magazine (as well as for Amazon, of course, though they don't pay me for this stuff), I applaud the information contained herein. Honestly, I'm seriously tired of the drivel that some folks try to pass off as literature these days.
The subtitle is "a simple guide to noir, cops, gangsters, heists, [etc.] in book and film, and how to make that genre work for you as a writer." That's quite a mouthful, but it describes this book very well. Contents include essential elements such as plot, settings, crime scenes, characters, dialogue, language, comic relief, and atmosphere. Various types of characters such as the sleuth, sidekick, villain, victim, hero, and enabler are described in detail, along with tips and tricks for making villains truly evil and heroes positively good. Examples are pulled from books and movies that most readers will already be familiar with.
The writing is clear and concise, with a wry wit that makes a textbook-like tome thoroughly enjoyable. The only major drawback in this otherwise exemplar book is that the information is not in-depth enough in many places to work as a stand-alone resource. Sadly there is no suggested reading list (beyond some examples of good books/films to read/see) to supplement the materials. The font and spacing are quite large, making the book appear larger then it really is, yet it does cover all the bases well enough to get you started.
Surprisingly there is no biography or author credentials in the book beyond a short statement that he is a writer and journalist who lives in Manchester, England. When I asked for more information via e-mail, he promptly replied that he used to work on films as well as write for a number of publications, including The Guardian, The Big Issue and The New Statesman, He used to teach English and Media and has stories published in England and France, although they were neither thrillers nor full-length novels. I didn't bother to fact check his assertions since I believe that the quality of information in this work is sufficient to back up his contentions.
Overall, The Ingredients of a Good Thriller is a very good resource for aspiring writers, particularly those who intend to go the self-publishing route. If you make it through the hoops and sign with a major publishing house you will be assigned the assistance of a professional editor who can shore up any inadequacies, but self-published novelists generally make due without. The challenge, of course, is that you won't make it through the first gate without covering all the bases described in this book. Either way, it's a valuable tool.
Tapping into a market, surely, is this book which offers guidance in writing thrillers. The market is actually bigger than the generic term "thriller" suggests. You'll find tips here for writing -
private eye stories
serial killer stories
unlikely sleuth stories
Author Chris Wood serves up the guidance in small, tasty serves. You'll find things like "Boy Meets Nutter, Girl Meets Psycho" on the menu, and the dish shows how unexpected character revelations and unpredicted behaviour can add spice and relish to a story. The tone is light-hearted. Films and books are cited and an appendix offers some recommendable examples of each.
Chris Wood's knowledge, insights and perceptions are impressive. Occasionally, however, he overlooks an obvious strategy. He devotes a section to "The Sidekick" and identifies some of the sidekick's uses. He fails to mention, however, that having a sidekick on hand offers the easiest way of getting the sleuth talking.
Chris Wood is a writer and journalist living in Manchester, England. Don't assume he limits himself to analyzing what's on the British market, however. His knowledge of the North American market is detailed and comprehensive.
Whether you're a wannabe writer or a regular reader of crime fiction, you'll find 216 pages of good value here.
The last theoretical manifesto of thriller-writing I read was Chandler's `The Simple Art of Murder'. Chandler was blowing his own trumpet and uttering a blast of it against the monstrous regiment of women (Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers etc) who dominated the genre in his time. What he produced became a famous piece of literary criticism, maybe indeed a piece of literature in its own right. What Chris Wood is doing is both less and more ambitious. This book has no pretentions to being literature, but the thriller genre has come on a lot since the day of Philip Marlowe, and Chris Wood offers would-be authors a handy manual of tips on what to try to achieve and particularly what to avoid.
He casts his net quite widely, including James Bond stories, the Godfather series, Graham Greene's Brighton Rock and other productions outside the `whodunit' category that Chandler restricted himself to. I suppose this is only realistic - it would not make much sense these days to try to exclude so much of what has become the mainstream. If the consequence of that is that a good deal of the advice offered could apply generally to novels that are nobody's idea of `thrillers', then that is a consequence we just have to accept. Chris Wood proceeds mainly by examples, and without actually having counted the examples I'd guess that more than half of them are taken from films. Even assuming that his advice is aimed at authors and not film producers or directors I still have no real problem with that until he raises the matter of background music, which surely should have been restricted to a footnote at the most. On the other hand, if films can feature so prominently, why is there not more about detective series on television? Some of these, e.g. Morse or Inspector Frost or my own beloved Taggart series, are genuine pukka `mysteries' as we used to say, and those should at least form the basis of any treatise on `thrillers'.
The points made seem sound and sensible for the most part to me. I am not about to write any thrillers myself, but I have read plenty of them in my time, and I could certainly consider adding to my experience any thriller written to the Chris Wood quality assurance standard. We should probably be grateful that he has put the effort into pulling the threads together even to the extent that he has. Chandler followed his own advice and produced out-and-out masterpieces. Perhaps Chris Wood will do the same. Meantime by way of practical assistance I can offer him a few corrections he might like to make when the book is reprinted. Surely it is Hannibal Lecter, not `Lector' as he has it throughout? On p 47 I also think he probably means Nigel Stock. Starting from p 29 when I started to notice there are the following errata -- p 29 `in's'; p31 `inciteful'; p 33 `mains'; p 64 `who's'; p 65 `gargantuum'; p 71 `mislead'; p 90 `reigns'; p 131 `Potempkin'; p 142 `breath'; p 159 `plaigarism'. Among the many helpful don'ts, don't neglect accuracy.
I've read a lot of thrillers. Some were excellent. Others, not so much. I can think of more than a few authors who should have picked up a copy of The Ingredients of a Good Thriller before they started writing.
If you are thinking of writing a thriller, I would highly suggest getting a copy of The Ingredients of a Good Thriller. It explores all aspects of novels from this main genre in some detail and even addresses the various subgenres and possible plot categories.
Throughout, the author calls it straight. If the rule is set in stone, he says so. If there are a variety of common choices, he lists them. If something sounds good but just doesn't work, he warns against it. He also mentions when and where it is appropriate to be imaginative and when it will just confuse your audience.
on 15 March 2009
This easy to read and thought provoking guide has inspired me to have a crack at producing my own thriller!
I didn't buy it for that reason but Wood's clear, varied and well referenced observations and tips. Soon had me generating my own ideas and really understanding what I love about the genre and what is missing.
Although I greatly enjoyed reading cover to cover; the book seemed well indexed and was presented in a logical way so it should serve as a useful reference book in the future.
on 23 December 2008
This book can be fun if you like, well, "thrillers" in a very loose sense indeed. There are a lot of movies and books described herein that are a long way from what I would call a thriller, such as, say, Peckinpaugh's The Wild Bunch, which is a superb western that I have never before seen categorized as a thriller. I would also hesitate to call the James Bond series by this term, but there are plenty of spy novels/movies (e.g. le Carre) for which the term is appropriate. There are chapters in the book that you'll enjoy, but other chapters have less relevance--background music, for example, is unlikely to be in a novelist's hands, and perhaps not even in those of a scriptwriter. Background music can be a great asset to a movie: think of Karas' zither in The Third Man, and ask what role Graham Greene may have had in the choice.
Part of the enjoyment is to find things that you agree with Wood about, and to find things that Wood may never have heard of. In his chapter on victims, for instance, Wood mentions the possibility of a kidnapping mistake--but missed the classic movie example High and Low (based on a McBain 87th Precinct novel): the son of Mifune's chauffeur is grabbed by the kidnapper who thinks he has Mifune's son. Will the rich Mifune pay a fortune to free the chauffeur's son? Woods talks at length about L.A. Confidential, Chinatown, The Maltese Falcon, but not very much about The Big Sleep. In that fine film the director and actors had no idea about who did some of the murders--and that helped give the film a darkness and depth that many other films lack. I would have been happier if Wood had left the movie The Untouchables out entirely--that is a vastly overrated film. Several of the Coen brothers films are in the book, but I don't recall seeing Blood Simple, which is perhaps their best movie. In Blood Simple you never seem to have any idea of what's going to happen, and many moviegoers prefer predictability.
Finally, what needs to be in the book is The Friends of Eddie Coyle. This was a wonderful novel by George Higgins made into a superb movie with Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle. Most of the prime ingredients that Wood describes are present here. Mitchum as the small-time gun-dealing Eddie Coyle is a fine flawed antihero. Boyle as Dillon, the bartender/hitman is equally flawed. The dialogue, crucial to Wood, is as authentic as you'll ever see in any movie, and like the Sopranos, the locales are authentic as well. Everything is character-driven, and interestingly there are no victims in the usual sense. The plot/plots--also crucial for Wood is almost a contradiction--it's simple and complex at the same time: Coyle the gun dealer must interact with mob figures, bank robbers, and minor terrorists at the same time. If you read the book or see the movie, you'll find that it seems to embody most of what Wood is describing. So read Wood and also read or see The Friends of Eddie Coyle--you'll understand what I mean.
Despite having a subtitle long enough to strangle a cat, this is a really accessible and entertaining wee book. I'm not certain who would be likely to pick it up, because much of the ground it covers is basic stuff which I expect most fans of the genre to be very familiar with. Why would you consider writing a thriller if you weren't already a fan, I ponder?
However, the details in each chapter which refer constantly to examples from films, books and TV, are thoroughly engaging. This book is more like a conversation in a pub than a lecture from an expert; I found myself arguing a point or two with the author (I'm not sure that Mr Blonde really is any kind of hero, you know; surely he's just too mental for that? Etc) over some bones of contention, while making notes to catch up on some older films which I've obviously missed.
In fact that's one of this book's strongest points. Even if you're not remotely considering writing any sort of thriller, it gives you a great reading/viewing wishlist of the author's most influential and admired thrillers. Much of the content relates to recent offerings, and the author obviously adores No Country For Old Men and other works from the Coen brothers, plus Se7en and Reservoir Dogs, but the classics get a tip of the hat at appropriate moments too.
When I started reading 'The Ingredients...' I was pretty sure that it wasn't a book I'd get very much from. By the time I'd finished it, I was sad it was over. The writing is accessible, punchy and to the point. The publishing is no-frills (like that matters...?), and the subject matter is of continual interest to me. Why are we attracted to the evil in life, and why do we fictionalise it so much? Read this, and get a little closer to understanding.
ps; if you really do want to write crime fiction then Lawrence Block's Telling Lies for Fun and Profit 'Telling Lies for Fun and Profit' covers the subject in greater depth and with the experience gained from that authors extensive career
on 5 January 2009
They say that there's a book in all of us. We're a race of story tellers. With the advent of the internet, all of us have the ability to "publish" whatever we choose worldwide, and millions of people are doing so.
However, it's just as hard as ever to become a successful writer. As with any art form, you need a good grounding in the important principles and skills, the talent to produce something special, hard work and luck.
Without an understanding of the first of these, the principles, you're not going to get anywhere, and this book aims to give an overview of these, specifically applied to the thriller genre. No-one likes learning "boring theory", but Chris Wood's natural, easy going style makes it fun and interesting.
I'm sure that there is a lot more depth to this subject, and anyone looking for a comprehensive guide might be disappointed, but that's not really what this book is about.
If you like thrillers, and have a dream of writing a book, or a film, or even interactive fiction, this is a good starting point. Accessible, enjoyable and inspiring.
on 4 January 2009
This book is a very useful as a practical guide for all wannabe thriller writers. The savvy tips on the key things to think about when writing a success thriller will give many aspiring writers of the genre food for thought. The authors enthusiasm for thrillers comes across constantly in what is a well written book. It is also a wonderful (if not exhaustive, but then it never claims to be!) exploration of the genre, both in print and on the silver screen. The authors' signposting of classic thrillers has already led me in a variety of rewarding directions. Buy and Enjoy! Recommended.