Do writers read differently than non-writers, and if so, what do they do that is different, and can non-writers benefit from the difference? The answers to those questions is ‘yes,’ ‘I’ll explain shortly,’ and ‘yes’ again.
To put it simply, writers observe how a novel is put together as they read the story. What writers observe and how that can add to one’s reading pleasure is what I’m about to explain using a novel by Jeffrey Deaver as my model example.
Deaver, who keynoted at two Washington/Maryland writers’ conferences in recent years, is a meticulous plotter. He spends as much time researching and plotting each of his novels as he spends in the writing. One reason is that he writes thrillers.
The bar for thrillers is very high these days. The source of the crisis that drives each thriller must be believable and the threat must be extremely serious. In Garden of Beasts, published in 2004, Deaver places his hero––an American with a dubious reputation––on an off-the-books mission in Nazi Germany in 1936. Germany hosted the Olympics that summer at a time when many world leaders still ignored Adolph Hitler’s militaristic and anti-Semitic rhetoric and the steps being taken to rearm the country in violation of the Versailles Treaty.
As the story emerges, plot twists expose characters who are not who they seem at first. Each twist endangers Deaver’s hero and threatens his mission. Without having planned each twist before he started writing, Deaver could not have pulled off each character reveal so smoothly and so believably.
In addition to the plot twists, Deaver exposes the heart of two important characters by showing us their home life––both seem to be good guys at first, but in the end one is heroic, the other a despicable cold-blooded murder. He also reveals the heart of his protagonist by putting him in situations where he has to choose between doing the right thing or avoiding confrontations that may jeopardize his mission.
Having plotted out the story in great detail enables Deaver to create tension and suspense, which keeps the reader turning the pages. As the story reaches its climax, the reader is still in doubt about the protagonist’s character. We wonder whether he’ll choose to complete his mission by killing his target or save the lives of a group of young German pacifists.
Another aspect of Garden of Beasts that wins over his readers is the extent to which he set the story in a real time period with real people along side his fictional ones. The art of historical fiction requires a thorough familiarity with the time period and location. A list of works about Nazi Germany that Deaver lists for readers’ benefit at the end of the novel demonstrates the extent to which he put in the time to learn what he needed to know in order to make the story setting realistic as well as make the dialogue involving Nazi leaders feel realistic.
As you read your next novel, observe how the story is constructed. How does the author reveal the characters’ personalities? How are tension and suspense sustained? Does the story’s location come alive? Does the ending ring true or do you know in advance what will happen? If in doubt, try one of Jeffrey Deaver’s novels for a well-constructed story that yields reading pleasure.