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Literary Glance: The Fix by David Baldacci

May 11, 2017

When I read from a writer’s point of view, the strangest things can stand out.

The Fix by David Baldacci starts off with a fast-paced scene that juggles the actions of three seemingly random characters.  You know something bad is going to happen to one or more of them because it’s a thriller and good things rarely happen to characters at the beginning of a thriller.  The only character whose thoughts are revealed is Amos Decker, and his name was listed in the book’s blurb, so I figured he would survive the upcoming horrific event, whatever it was.

All three random characters seem to be going to work in Washington DC when a guy named Derbey (we don’t know much about him) shoots a woman named Berkshire (we don’t know much about her either) in the back of the head in public.  Here is how the murder is described as Decker watches.  It’s kind of graphic, but not really:

Berkshire jerked forward as the round slammed into the back of her head at an upward angle.  It blew out her medulla, pierced her brainpan, banged like a pinball off her skull, and exited through her nose, leaving a wound three times the size of the entry due to the bullet’s built-up wall of kinetic energy.  She fell forward onto the pavement, her face mostly obliterated, the concrete tatted with her blood.

To me, this short paragraph stood out from the rest of the chapter for a couple reasons.  First of all, some of the details seem unnecessary to an action scene. The author uses specific anatomical terms such as medulla and brainpan.  I think I used to know what a medulla was, but I’ve forgotten, and a brainpan has something to do with the brain.

I’m not against specific (or clinical) details in a thriller.  I’m not even against this paragraph.  To me, this was just an odd description of a murder when the rest of the scene was moving at a fast pace.  The next scene a couple pages later was the autopsy, and all the details about bullet entry and exit could have been put in dialogue as the body was being discussed.

Also, the second sentence in the excerpt (the one describing the bullet’s path) has four verbs in it and then a participial phrase.  I know it was a participial phrase because I looked it up.  I don’t usually gripe about participial phrases in sentences.  My point is that a sentence with one subject followed by four verbs and a participial phrase is most likely going to make a sentence feel awkward.  Maybe I’m wrong because David Baldacci keeps getting books published, and I have a blog that a few people read.

Anyway, I thought that the four-verb plus participial phrase sentence was unnecessary and maybe confusing, so I rewrote the action to get rid of the clinical details and maybe speed up the action.

Before Decker could respond, Derbey shot Berkshire in the back of the head and ran.  Berkshire fell to the pavement, the concrete tatted with her blood.

My version isn’t perfect.  I’m just saying that Decker was watching the action unfold, and it would have happened quickly, so his point-of-view would not have anything to do with the medulla or brainpans or pinballs.

Also, the bullet banging “like a pinball off her skull” might not be the best phrase to use.  The bullet could have ricocheted a little, but I see a pinball as bouncing off wall to wall, and I’m not sure that’s the visual the author intended.  Does the bullet bang off the skull more than once?  Maybe I’m being too literal with a simile.

I don’t mean this as criticism (though it might sound critical).  As an aspiring writer, sometimes I read a book NOT to see what happens, but to see how an author writes what happens.  Unfortunately, that means I can get stuck on whether a bullet bangs “like a pinball” or words like medulla and brainpan should be used in a different scene.

It’s usually easier just to read a book as a reader.

*****

What do you think?  Do you ever read books from a writer’s point of view?  If so, what types of things do you notice?

4 Comments
  1. actually a 22 will ricochet around a bit in the skull. smiles
    We flogged this book in class a few weeks ago, none of my students would have kept reading after like page 3.

  2. I’m listening to The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton (audiobook) and it’s so scientific that I feel like an idiot because I don’t understand basically 75% of the words. Authors like Baldacci and Crichton need to consider their readers’ education, not everyone is a scientist! So I completely get where you’re coming from. Great review!

  3. I keep several books on my desk for use when I want to see how the authors handled different scenarios. Hemingway, Dickens, and Fitzgerald each had distinctive styles. I tend to wordiness so Hemingway is my hero for tight writing; Dickens helps me build character; Fitzgerald helps me when I need to see what writing as poetic art can be. Fitzgerald was so darn good I usually end up thinking I should give up writing.

  4. I enjoy your posts so much. Most of the time I get a good chuckle from them and I always agree with you. In this case, I liked your paragraph much better! I would have gotten hung up on the pinball analogy, too. I like tight, concise, well thought out writing best. I think when people are reading about a fast-paced murder, they don’t want to hear about brain parts.

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