Thursday, April 21, 2011

Making a Mystery

I recently came across a short story by Lee Child called "The Bodyguard." Most readers will recognize Child as the author of the Jack Reacher stories. "The Bodyguard" is not a Reacher story. In fact, as far as I know, it is the only non-Reacher story Child has written.  I quickly got past my initial disappointment and got into the story. It's a good story. I wouldn't call it great, but it stuck with me. So much so that I put aside my novel-in-progress to write my own bodyguard story.

I couldn't stop thinking about Child's story and about my take on it. I even dreamt about it. I'm not finished with it, but I'm still going at it with the same passion I had when I began.

My story is not a rip-off of Child's story, but it is certainly influenced by it. Readers might recognize similar elements in both. If they do, great; if not, so be it.

There is a quote that is variously attributed to Hemingway, Picasso, Stravinsky, and others: "Good artists borrow, great artists steal."

I don't believe either borrowing or stealing captures the essence of what writers and other artists do. We communicate with each other. One author produces a story on a theme, concept, or even a shard of an idea, and other authors take off from that with their own spin on the concept.

This notion of communication among artists was brought home to me three years ago on a trip to Florence, Italy. Our guide at the Uffizi museum took us to a painting by an early Italian painter. It was a Madonna and Child. She pointed out some of the elements of the painting and showed us a painting by Giotto with similar elements, but with Giotto's own take on them. From Giotto we went to Botticelli, Da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo. The paintings changed on several different dimensions--no perspective to perspective, religious to secular, to name just a few. But in all of them, you could see a form of communication between an artist and his predecessors.

Story themes seem to flow and ebb because authors get into the conversation with their take on a theme and then move on when they have nothing more to say. I'm hoping authors will soon run out of things to say about zombies and vampires.

I don't expect a surge in bodyguard stories, but once you join a conversation, you never know how long it will last or who will jump in. Writing is a lot like a attending a cocktail party. There are a lot of conversations going on, some big, some small, and we move from one to other as they pique our interests.

Mark Troy
Hawaiian Eye Blog


Terry Odell said...

A very common exercise in workshops is to throw out a prompt such as, "She wants a divorce" or pass out pictures, and have the participants write a paragraph or two. They're all going to be different, even with the same theme. (there seem to be quite a few bodyguard stories in the romantic suspense genre)

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Morgan Mandel said...

I'd call such novels trends, not borrowing or stealing. Same thing happens in movies.

Morgan Mandel

Kevin R. Tipple said...

I am not familiar with this story by Child.

A few years back, there was a huge upsurge of bodyguard type stories. It seemed to fizzle out after a bit. Hoping the same will happen with the romantic vampire stuff.