Writing Tip #92

Stick to what you’re good at. Lee Child, a British thriller writer whose novels follow the adventures of a former American military policeman Jack Reacher, was the spotlight guest during the Friday session of ThrillerFest. He was asked if he would ever do a non-Reacher novel.

“I’m a hack and a bore. Probably never.” Child said. “I’m the guy who writes [Jack] Reacher. If you’re sick of him, go read someone else.”

I love this. So often writers are told to try something new or to write about “what’s hot” or what other people think they should be writing about or that they should do it this way or that way. But here’s a guy — an extremely successful guy — who makes no apologies for how he writes and what he writes about. Throughout some of the other ThrillerFest panels, I’d heard authors talk about arc and how characters need to have an arc throughout a novel or series of novels, and at one point someone asked, “Well, what about the Jack Reacher novels?” And there seemed to be this moment of silence, and I wasn’t sure if the authors were distressed  that Child managed to make a successful career for himself by creating a character who doesn’t have and never will have a character arc or if they were impressed by it.

“People like series for their comfort, reliability,” Child said during his interview. “They’re ‘pre-approved’ like credit cards. I’m always trying NOT to develop Jack Reacher… Jack hasn’t learned anything. I’m fighting against developing.”

I found what Child had to say refreshing. That is not to say that I’m against character arc, but I’m a fan of those who buck a trend or defy prevailing wisdom and find success on their own terms.

“Individually, we [writers] stick to what we’re good at,” added Child, whose book One Shot has been made into a film, retitled Jack Reacher (out in December 2012), starring Tom Cruise. “Collectively, we writers cover everything.”