Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Partners In Crime

They call them "Buddy Flics." Two guys are placed by the screenwriter into a partnership that becomes the primary thread that carries the action of the movie. Think Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, Gibson and Glover (Lethal Weapon), Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, and Matthau and Lemmon (Odd Couple) amongst dozens of others. These were magical partnerships that would propel the couple through adventures and escapades (often quite messy and later bloody – but almost always humorous). It is the quintessential Hollywood vehicle for storytelling.

Concurrent to the male-male story, the mixed Buddy Film emerged with couples such as Nick and Nora Charles (Thin Man series and other films), Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall (not necessarily a series but a couple that sparked sexual energy and box office dollars), and of course Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. The sexual nuance could now be employed with, in most cases, the woman equal to the man (and often smarter). And who can forget Mickey and Minnie.

Thelma and Louise changed the roles to a darker side, two women out for a good time that goes bad. While the genre could be two women it has to have two strong actors and a great story to pull it off. There not many to choose from.

In the modern era, literature has used this vehicle to carry a story since Don Quixote and Sancho Panza rode across the Spanish Plain. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, Dashiell Hammett used it in his Thin Man series (books and screenplays), and Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.

The goal of today's mystery and thriller writer is to use this archetype to inject conflict, humor, and movement to the story. It is seldom used in the first person telling of the story, the "I said and then you responded," can be confusing. The Lone Wolf character seldom needs a partner – Jack Reacher works alone (in Lee Child's stories Reacher "bumps" into characters for the action). The greatest purpose of the Buddy Book is to draw out the two main characters in ways that the action of the story can't. In David Baldacci's King and Maxwell series (six books and counting) we have an older man (ex-Secret Service) and a younger woman teamed as detectives. They bitch and moan at each other, name call, and otherwise act like any married couple except they aren't. The action of the story is paired with a soft sexual tension that pervades their conversations – the "will they or won’t they" is placed in the mind of the reader as the two act to save the president of the United States, oh-hum (actually a great read).

The writer can structure their books with a main character and subordinates (I call it the office model – boss and minions), lone wolf with casual walk-on/die off guests, Buddy (man-man, man-woman, man/woman-pet (ouch), and woman-woman), or in the case of some very strange works of fiction a robot or car (think Stephen King). All character structures work but it is often found that with a partnership the writer can further develop and deepen the characters. The reader may more easily identify with one or the other of the leads, especially in a man-woman structure. It also allows for a broader relationship to the marketplace – guys for guys and gals for gals – or the switch to guys for the sexy successful gal and gals for sexy unstoppable hunk of a guy. Just saying.

I've found in my Sharon O'Mara and Kevin Bryan stories my two characters just want to bust out in each book. Each wants top billing (at least in my head) and I have to continually push Kevin back since it is Sharon's chronicles. I try to balance them with the number of words each is entitled to, and I have found that Sharon needs to learn to share. For some buddies sharing is tough.

Every writer I've met that writes buddies is faced with the same conundrum: Do I keep the same model or will I, in the next book, switch the roles of the partners? More than once, such as in the Stephen Coonts Jake Grafton stories, Tommy Carmellini (the quasi-partner) wants to tell his story too. It is an all to often problem, think Rhoda from Mary Tyler Moore and Frasier from Cheers (okay a stretch but you get my drift). But when you spin-off one buddy who becomes their buddy? Just asking.

More later . . . . . . . .

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Some Days This and Some Days That

Most writers have a split personality; it may not be found in the Webster's definition of the illness, nonetheless it is there. A writer, regardless of the genre and specialty, fights two wars, their need to create art versus the real specter of survival. After all even Stephen King had to eat, Hugh Howey had to pay rent, and Hemingway, at some point, had to buy more bullets. To create is to eat.

Every writer I know (not having met Stephen King, Michael Connolly, Dan Brown, or Nora Roberts) has a second job – or first job depending on the situation. A few are lawyers (I guess they have more free time), many run households (that's a tough job too), even a few work in the industry as agents and bookstore clerks. Two I know are ex-FBI agents, another a medical professional, and one is in insurance (where Tom Clancy began). There is no common road that's traveled; we all come to story telling from different places and experiences. That's what makes it so diverse and exciting.

Elizabeth George, a wonderful writer of detective novels set in England, was a school teacher for many years before turning to writing as a career. John Grisham was a lawyer, and who is probably is one of America's best storytellers; the same with Steve Berry. I would offer that there are very few successful writers out there that majored in "How to be a successful writer and not starve," in college.

To hold down a job or a profession accomplishes one very important thing: it teaches discipline. Writing requires endless hours or scribbling on paper and pounding keyboards. It requires structure, connectivity, and self-control. A novel will take a minimum of six months, probably more, to write; by the time it's ready to publish more than a thousand hours (at least) have been spent. Most paying jobs, your day job, the one that puts food on the table, demand at least 2,000 hours a year, and if you commute add another 400 hours of unpaid time. How you fit those two vocations together, along with your family and other saner pursuits, will define you and your stories.

While youth brings vitality to writing, often with freshness and naiveté, they also tend to lack depth and perspective in their stories. Great writers get better as they age. Stephen King and John Grisham's latest works show how thirty years of additional life experiences color their work. The sixty-year-old writer has seen more and done more and brings a richer vivacity to their stories. They see the shades of life. They understand nuance.

To young writers: don’t be discouraged. Get a job, eat and live well, raise a family, travel the world, try new things, and perfect the art of living. Become good at something, even become great. All these will add color, reality, and texture to your stories. All stories are about the human condition – all! Write what you know, write what you don’t know, write to learn, and write what you dream, but still write.

More later . . . . . . . . .