Sunday, December 5, 2010

Night of Thunder by Stephen Hunter

Today I read Night of Thunder by Stephen Hunter. 

Learn to Write by Reading Project.

Stephen Hunter is one of my favorite authors I have enjoyed reading all of his novels.  This one is set in Bristol, TN at the time of a NASCAR event.

I love his protagonist, Bob Lee Swagger.  In fact, I've felt a little guilty using Bob Lee as the name of my antagonist in Bon Secour.  Hate to besmirch both the name of his protagonist and Gen. Robert E. Lee.  But, there you go.  The point of my antagonist is that he is a likable soul gone wrong.

Anyway, after studying how to write this year and reading novels analyzing why they work and why they sometimes don't, I found that I didn't like this story as much as I had enjoyed his previous stories.

Hunter's gimmick is that Bob Lee Swagger was a USMC sniper.  He knows everything about guns, ammunition, and shooting.  These topics are heavily embedded in every Bob Lee Swagger story.  I don't know that much about these topics.  And I don't care to know that much about these topics.  I'm not a hunter and I haven't fired a rifle since I wore Uncle Sam's green fatigues.  My readers may feel the same way about some of my protagonist's knowledge.  When I tell my story, Bon Secour, I need to keep my knowledge gimmick at a safe level.  My reader probably doesn't want to know the details of how to adjust a carburetor, just because my protagonist does.  It may add authenticity to the story but it isn't the story.

Night of Thunder ends with a surprise on the last two pages.  Sounds good.  But, my mind rebelled.  My story needs to have an ending that has been sufficiently set up.  One that seems right.  Not pulled out of a hat.  Tell me a character would finger his brother as the villain.  OK, I can believe that.  Tell me the character will say he thinks the villain might be his brother and then two pages later kills him.  I don't believe that would happen.  This means that my story must show a logical link from a character's knowledge to his emotions to his actions.  I can't leave any of it out.

Bob Lee Swagger is a cool dude.  He is a weapons superstar.  I get it.  Near the end of this novel, he stands over the body of the bad guy's boss whom he just beaten in a fast draw showdown.  He brags about being a fast draw champ, "Nobody ever called me slow."  Come on.  That is just tacky.  Bob Lee never bragged like that in a dozen previous novels.  Why make him a narcissist now?   I must make my protagonist likeable if I want my reader to identify with him, to take a fictive journey as my protagonist.  I must do this all the way to the end of the story.

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