A little while ago I received an Amazon comment on one of the R&M Files that said something about DI Romney NOT being Harry Bosch. (I wish I could reference it here but I can’t find it! Typical. I know I didn’t imagine it.) Of course Romney isn’t Bosch. Romney is Romney. He’s from a completely different culture, place and system. He’s a different person. Although I understood the comment, what the reader was getting at, I didn’t really appreciate the reader in question saying that Romney isn’t Bosch. It comes across as a negative thing. Maybe it was for that reader. It’s a bit like saying a VW beetle isn’t a Ferrari. (I like beetles and I like Ferraris but a beetle isn’t a Ferrari. I doesn’t have to be for me to like it. It’s just a different type of car.) Romney is a different type of policeman. He was never meant to be anyone but Romney and the inference I took from the comment was that as the creator of Romney I’d tried to make him something Boschlike and failed. Have I ever mentioned that I can be over-analytical sometimes?
I’d heard of Bosch, of course. I say ‘of course’ because Bosch has been a hugely popular detective fiction character for years. (Harry Bosch is the creation of Michael Connelly. Bosch is a detective working for the LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department.) Maybe I should have read him before. I have now and am glad that I have.
Rather serendipitously soon after reading the afore-mentioned comment, Amazon sent me a voucher for a free book. They gave me the choice of three, I think, and the first Bosch was one of them. You don’t need to be a detective to guess what happened next. And then I actually BOUGHT the next four in the series! I was that impressed with the writing and the character.
The first three were really good. For my money, books four and five have just gone off the boil a little. The writing isn’t quite as sharp, as cutting, as decisive as it was in the first three. Just my opinion. And Bosch the character comes across as more of a dick (that’s dick as in British slang than dick as in American slang) in these books than hard-nosed as he did in books 1-3. I realise that’s a fine line to walk for an author. A lesson for Romney and me. Romney can be a dick (British slang) first class. Actually, come to think of it, so can I. (Yet another thing the Dover DI and I have in common. Sigh.) It’s important that even when your central protagonist is being a dick he’s still got some appeal. It’s crucial for the reader. Harry lost some of his appeal for me in book four. I got a bit irritated with him. He clawed some of it back in book five. I will be reading more in the series.
It’s often said that writers need to be readers. Writers can learn from reading the writing of others. What works and what doesn’t. As well as having enjoyed the reading experience, I’ve learned some things from working my way through the first five Bosch novels back to back. (As an aside, I think a writer has to be bloody good to make a reader want to plough without interruption through a series and then to make the reader follow through with that want.)
Swearing: less is more. Bosch and a couple of people he interrogates get very sweary at times, particularly in book five, and it does lose the impact of the language for me. There’s ALWAYS going to be a place in contemporary crime fiction for bad language. It’s simply the reality of contemporary life. (Curiously enough I had another comment on Rope Enough (R&M#1) not so long ago that said: Did not like the blasphemy. If the ebook wasn’t in my nice Kindle I’d have chucked it down the loo! Cussler & Wilbur Smith manage to put the word “expletive” where appropriate – we know what they mean. Well sorry mate but that’s bollocks. I can’t think of many more intrusive devices in a narrative than for an author to spoil the flow by using the word ‘expletive’ instead of …er…an expletive.
Character empathy: The reader must not be encouraged to become alienated from the central character of a series. That’s literary suicide. I see it time and again in comments readers make on Amazon: ‘didn’t care about any of the characters.’ I might have pushed that at times with the R&M Files and Romney. I might still be pushing it. I think that having a crime fighting duo like Romney and Marsh can help here as opposed to a lone ranger like Bosch. Romney might be dick sometimes but Marsh is there as the reader’s foil to manage his dickishness, to bring something out of it for the reader to enjoy. I hope so.
Repetition: I read a few comments that readers have made on the Bosch novels. Naturally I gravitated to the negative and luke-warm, like one does. One reader said that Connelly has a habit of telling something then repeating/explaining it with a summary sentence or another unnecessary paragraph. That struck a chord. A couple of readers whose opinions I trust have levelled the accusation at me. I’m mindful of it and I try to weed that sort of thing out of my writing when I go back during the editing process. And I had noticed a few instances of this in Connelly’s books. You’ve got to be a bit brave as a writer and take a leap of faith – believe in your readers’ ability to understand something first time round. As a reader I find it satisfying, pleasurable even to get it without having it explained and then rammed down my throat.
Padding: Connelly doesn’t seem to do a lot of this but just now and again I think he does touch on things that it really wouldn’t have hurt the narrative and story if he’d left them out. I read a few passages that made me frown with their apparent lack of connection to what was going on. I kept expecting them to show their relevance later in the story but they didn’t. (Maybe I just didn’t get it and needed it explaining and then rammed down my throat.) Another note to self. I don’t think I do much padding anyway. I don’t like it as a reader.
Similes: Connelly is pretty good generally, but there were a few times that I didn’t like his attempts and I think that the narrative would have been better for their absence. I am reminded to beware of grating home-made similes. If in doubt, leave them out. I think that home-made similes are a literary device that have the ability to separate the best writers from the rest of us. It’s something that I really appreciate in Chandler’s writing. He was one of the best. And while a brilliantly original and apt simile is worth a thousand words a poor one that jars can jolt the reader out of the flow. Another lesson for me: often plain words instead of clichés and flowery language are far more effective and less distracting for the reader, unless you have something really special to offer.
Humour: This is a big one for me. A big issue. In The Concrete Blonde (Bosch #3) there were a couple of very nice and welcome touches of humour. I was encouraged to chuckle to myself in a public place. It wasn’t the author being funny; it was Harry Bosch. And it really made a difference, this tough cop having a sense of humour. The incidents were subtle. But maybe what the touches did more than anything was to highlight the lack of humour anywhere else in the series. Humour suddenly became notable by its absence. And that realisation made quite an impact on me as a reader. Not in a good way.
Humour is important to me in my R&M Files. I understand that introducing humour in crime fiction is going to be fraught with difficulty for many reasons. But I think that if an author can bring it off it’s worth its weight in the story. It’s worth more than its weight. I’ve tempted my idea of what’s funny out of the shadows once again into R&M#5. It works for me. Funny humour always works for me as a reader. It’s one of the things I like about reading Elmore Leonard. That man could write a line that made me hoot and re-read it again and again just to appreciate the subtlety of it. I’m talking about a serious line of dialogue that was just so perfect it became funny. That kind of funny is a writer at the top of his craft.
Freshness: It’s not easy to keep books in a series fresh, to prevent them and the characters from becoming stale and predictable. It might be the biggest challenge for an author. I’m about to start book six in the R&M Files. I’m about to find out. Or maybe feedback on #5 will indicate it.
If someone with a hankering to write s series of detective novels asked me for advice I would say: read a few series before you even pick up a pencil. Get the feel for how characters develop over a few books. Read the books critically. Search for what works for you as a reader and what doesn’t over the course of, say, the first five books. Do I regret not doing that? (Wrinkles nose in thought.) No. But it might have helped me as a writer to think longer term for my characters. Then again when I wrote Rope Enough I had no idea there’d be #2 never mind a #5. And there will be a #6. I have to start that next. (More on that in September.)
Amazon have made a television series of the Connelly novels. It’s called Bosch. I haven’t seen any but I want to. The guy who plays Bosch looks appropriate as I see the character, although in the books I’ve read Bosch has a moustache and Titus Welliver doesn’t. Good move by whoever made that decision for Amazon. When I learned in book three (?) that Harry had a tash I had to take a break. Facial hair definitely works for anyone Tom Sellick plays (Magnum and Jesse Stone) but I have to admit that I didn’t enjoy learning that Bosch was anything other than clean shaven or (often) stubbly with several days’ growth.
And finally, while I’m thinking about actor/character choice I’ve been asked and I’ve sometimes wondered who I’d like to play DI Romney on the small screen. I know who. I saw the guy in something a little while back and instantly thought he would be perfect. Nearly. Trouble is he’s now too old and he’s Irish. (I’ve no problem with the Irish but the accent would be an issue. That said the guy is an actor. Maybe he could have dealt with it convincingly. I’m sorry that the man who would have been my current first choice for DI Romney will, by cruel dint of time and place, not now get a sniff at the role. Liam Cunningham.
I have always thought of DI Romney as Ray Stevenson! Who would you cast as Marsh, I wonder…!!
Just checked him out. He could do it. at 6’3” he’s a big fella. As for Marsh, I’m still waiting for a face to work for me. I’m open to suggestions.
Reading crime novels is a bit of a hazard for me. I have a friend who is a professional proof reader and she cannot read a novel, or any book for that matter, without her brain constantly ‘correcting’ or proofing the text making it difficult to get the flow or feeling. Similarly, as a TV producer/director for twenty five years (retired now) I can’t read crime fiction without visualising the characters as ‘real’ actors or re-writing text as a TV scenario. R&M works so well for me. Terrific characterisation and dialogue help or hinder, if you like. Grumpy erratic old gits and strong, purposeful women for me! A deadly combination.
To a degree I suffer from that proof-reading problem since I started self-publishing. I miss a lot in my own stuff but I do spot things in the writing of others. Especially the self-published. That said, if the story is well told I can deal with it. One of the best self-published books I read had a lot of errors.
Also the visualisation is something I do a lot of for writing. Some of the scenes are so clear for me. I enjoy that aspect of the process.
And if you like grumpy old gits and strong women I can promise you you’ll enjoy that aspect of R&M#5. 🙂
True, Romny is not Bosch–that’s good.
That made me smile. Thanks.
Came across Michael Connelly a while ago, but haven’t read any of his books yet. It was quite a coincidence, as only last week Hubby subscribed to Amazon Prime and the Bosch series came up. He immediately put it on his watch-list. Your Blog comments urged me to want to catch a couple of episodes. I did like the story-line and the character, but as you say, Romney is nothing like Harry Bosch: different type: different place.
As writers we strive to put out books that will immediately catch the reader’s attention, then sustain it through to the end. But, like you, I can overlook typos in my own work when proof-reading as I’m engrossed in my character and the plot, but can soon spot the typo and clumpy sentence in other author’s work as it disrupts the flow. I do a lot of reading and re-reading to make sure the flow is sustained, and typo’s wheedled out. We overlook our own mistakes because we know the story and our characters so well: I know everything about my characters before I start writing, it adds to their roundness.
A reviewer once commented that one of my characters was childish and selfish, therefore rating it low. I wanted to respond with, ‘That was my intention, I wrote her that way.’ Even though my character was selfish she had other redeeming qualities. Even the most evil of characters have to have some redeeming qualities, even if it’s only they are good to their mother. I would point out I was more magnanimous in my response to the review.
Here are my rules for writing:
No. 1: If you are stuck on a scene: a story, don’t pad it out. Sometimes a quickie can be more satisfying than the full-blown version. A short good novel is better than a longer boring one.
No. 2: Swear if the scene calls for it, but don’t over-do it, unless you are writing about a bunch of soldiers where every sentence contains the word ‘fuck’ several times over. When people are stressed they swear.
No. 3: Sex, and the writing thereof. My preference – sorry, not about to disclose here – is not to use metaphor for various body parts, or what my characters do with those various body parts, or where they put those various body parts. I write for adults, not children.
As for your choice of actor to play Romney, Liam Cunningham would be excellent. But you would need someone as gutsy as the likes of Helen Mirren for his side-kick, Marsh.
As always, looking forward to the next R&M.
I keep thinking about subscribing to Amazon prime. There look to be a lot of good shows available. And I am very keen to see what they made of Harry.
I know exactly what you mean about that reader comment. I’ve had a few like that myself. There’s no arguing them though. People see what they want to see. The other side of that coin is when a reader sees your guy exactly as you wanted to portray him. Great feeling for a writer.
I like your rules. With me, one of the main things when I’m writing is if I feel my attention wandering then probably so will the reader. Tie it up and switch to something else.
I can’t plan a book. Just can’t. Making it up as I go along gets my juices flowing.
I still feel pretty sad about Mr Cunningham.
We’re quite taken with Amazon prime. Have watched the whole Bosch series now and thought it was well-made. Did note Michael Connelly was one of the producers. Intend to read one of his books when I get the time. Bosch came over as I would expect of a Special Forces Operative turned cop: edgy, gritty, reliable, and not liked by some of his colleagues.
I, too, like my characters to jump off the page, and if I try and plot or plan it halts the flow. I am an ‘organic’ writer as I like to call myself. Someone who lets the characters take me to places, not me taking them to places.
After commenting to you about my rules, of which there are plenty, it spurred me on to write a blog yesterday about Author Intrusion as I had just finished a crime thriller which was full of it. When an author’s voice shows through it can be very jarring to the narrative.
As for Liam Cunningham being too old, and Irish, my choice would be total unknowns for Romney & Marsh, actors whose celebrity doesn’t get in the way.
Hope the writing is going well.
Sorry, Pat. Missed this reply of yours.
I keep toying with the idea of signing up for Prime and then I think, if I do that I’ll watch it and there goes my writing time.
Organic is right. I started R&M#6 with an underlying plot in mind. That’s why I went straight onto it. Guess what. Twenty-five thousands words in and I’ve lost the plot, so to speak. The book has evolved into something else entirely and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it. That sounds very luvvy but there it is. At least I have a plot in the locker for R7M#7. 🙂
You might be right about R&M. Still, it’s all pretty academic. Because no one wants them boo hooooooo hahaha. 🙂
Don’t give up, someone will want you, one day. We can all dream – nothing wrong with that – so always look on the bright side. I do, because I think I will be discovered when I dead and gone and my body is laying on a gurney in a medical science laboratory.
I’m whistling that tune now, and after all I’ve said recently about ‘author intrusion’.
Keep up the good work, even if you can’t keep up with anything else.
Romney isn’t Bosch just as Frost wasn’t Morse or Columbo wasn’t Sherlock… i’m rambling but you get the idea anyway. He is a character in his own right, an individual and that’s why we like him.
Bosch has a media campaign behind him right now thats propelling him forward and it’s clearly working as I have read 2 in the last few weeks. I normally stay away from the big name authors with a long series of books as often feel it gets too formulaic as they churn them out. My pet peev is when the authors name is bigger than the title of the book on the cover. I am not so much of a fan of anyone to just buy into that way of reading.
Looking forward to the next R&M though 😉
Thanks for your comment. I appreciate your interest.
I hope Romney has evolved into a character different to others. I can’t think of another DI who is quite so misanthropic. Not everyone likes him (if you want a good laugh go to Goodreads and look at the first comment for Rope Enough. I love it. The reader calls Romney a douche bag, which really made me laugh.) but I do, despite his faults and his failings.
Harry certainly has got Amazon behind him these days. I’d like to see what they made of him on the screen but can’t get it in Turkey.
R&M#5 is in the editing process. I’m working on R&M#6 and a R&M short story so plenty to look forward to.
Oliver Tidy (all lower case and small font 🙂 )