Bad Sentences in Best-Selling Novels: Cross the Line by James Patterson
James Patterson writes a lot of books. It’s tough to gripe about it too much because almost every book he writes becomes a best-seller. Despite his success, I’ve thought that an author who puts out as many books a year as he does might not be worried about quality.
To demonstrate this point, I chose an excerpt from Patterson’s latest Alex Cross thriller, Cross the Line.
Chapter Two of this book has one of the least dramatic, least emotional death scenes I have ever read. To keep this blog post short, I’ve added my comments in parenthesis. At the beginning of this scene, the two victims Edita and McGrath are leaving a Whole Foods store after a couple pages of banter:
They turned to head south, Edita a step or two ahead of him.
A second later, McGrath caught red fire flashing in his peripheral vision, heard the boom-boom-boom (Lazy sound effect?) of rapid pistol fire, and felt bullets hit him (Wouldn’t the bullets hit him before he heard the sound?), one of them in his chest. It (More than one bullet hit him, so the pronoun should be “they” unless it was only the bullet that hit him in the chest that brought him down.) drove him to the ground (That’s it? He didn’t feel anything right away?).
Edita started to scream but caught the next two bullets (where?) and fell beside McGrath, the organic groceries tumbling across the bloody (already?) sidewalk.
For McGrath, everything became far away and slow motion (what does that even mean?). He fought for breath (cliché). It felt like he’d been bashed in the ribs with sledgehammers (poorly written cliché). He went on autopilot, fumbled (he’s fumbling while he’s on autopilot?) for his cell phone in his gym-shorts (gym shorts seems like an irrelevant detail at this point; maybe the gym shorts should have been established earlier in the scene) pocket.
He punched in 911, watched dumbly as the unbroken bottle of Clifton Dry rolled away from him down the sidewalk.
A dispatcher said, “District 911, how may I help you?” (That’s a very polite dispatcher. Dispatchers in my area start with “Is this an emergency?”)
“Officer down,” McGrath croaked. “Thirty-two hundred block of Wisconsin Avenue. I repeat, officer…”
He felt himself swoon (“swoon” implies falling down and he’s already on the ground) and start to fade. He let go of (weak verb, maybe use “dropped” instead) the phone and struggled to look at Edita. She wasn’t moving (weak verb phrase), and her face looked blank (cliché) and empty (cliché)
McGrath whispered to her before dying (this action is out of sequence).
“Sorry, ED,” he said (“whispered” has already been established). “For all of it.”
James Patterson is doing something right as an author. After all, he’s sold more books than every other author who has ever lived combined (slight exaggeration). Even so, this scene left me feeling nothing for the murdered victims.
I’ve never been shot, and I’ve never died before, so I’m no expert on how people react to these situations. Still, I imagine that the human mind goes through a lot. That final moment when a character realizes he/she is going to perish should reveal something about that character.
What would I think about in that situation? Did I leave the stove on? Will my wife remember to pay all the bills on time? Crap, I’ll never see my kids grow up or know who won the Super Bowl this year. A writer should be able to come up with some details, anything, to make a death scene emotional.
Maybe I’m being too nit-prickety. Maybe I am biased against James Patterson and don’t recognize his story-telling skills. Maybe I should take his masterclass to learn why everything I’ve written about that scene is wrong.
But in the meantime, here’s my own ebook about a story I wrote that got me in trouble at school.
Nobody has asked me to teach a masterclass.