15 October 2009

Riddle me this

I've just finished reading, or rather listening to, Dan Browns latest offering.

I've read his other four books, and despite recent criticism that his writing is actually 'a bit shit', I thought I should probably give this one a butchers. I went down the audio book route as it helps pass the time walking to work, although by doing this, I was well aware that I was going to be turning a four hour read into a sixteen hour listen.

He certainly does have a distinctive style, and has had a great degree of success, so I think I've worked out the magic formula for writing like Dan Brown.

------Contains Spoilers---If you intend on reading The Lost Symbol, go no further----


  • Take a bunch of hokey science, and hide it within the fact that the book opens with the statement 'all the technology, buildings, ceremonies are real etc....
  • Have your hero make witty references to his own books, where you are clearly referencing your own previous works.
  • Instill a sense of urgency by keeping the chapters so short, and always ending on a cliff hanger, so the reader keeps saying 'Just one more...'. Even though you know in your heart of hearts that this is really more likely to just piss them off
  • Start each chapter like an entry from Wikepedia, proving that it is 'all real'. Readers will not mind that the book scans like a shitty encyclopedia.

  • Bring in the usual stereotypes of a simpering romantic interest, a lunatic villain, an old friend in peril,and a foreign law officer that you don't know if you can trust
  • Orchestrate a ridiculous master plan that is dependent on several people co-operating, or not co-operating (because it is actually a clever double bluff and that's what you want them to do)
  • Organised religions and groups are a great target, as you can make up loads of stuff that they either won't dignify with a defense, or if they do, you can use the old 'no smoke without fire' approach. Catholics (or the Church as a whole), the CIA, the Masons are all clearly mad and dangerous, therefore good for a go.
  • Keep referring to modern technology just to prove what a cutting edge, techno thriller it is. Do not be afraid to crowbar something into the last few pages that hadn't been invented when you started writing the book,such as Twitter, although being as that is commonplace now, maybe Google Wave, and just hope it takes off.

  • Ignore Google. For example, if you think you're looking for the address '8 Franklin Square', but there is no such address, the top result of an 8x8 Magic Square designed by top Mason Ben Franklin, it's probably not worth mentioning. Particularly if you are trying to solve a puzzle of an 8x8 grid of symbols on the square base of a magic pyramid
  • String out 'puzzles' so the reader can play along at home. Even if a characters life is at risk, it's fun to waste several pages while the hero drops cryptic hints to the sister of the friend in peril so she can work out the solution for herself.

  • Spread out the action over multiple sites, so your hero has to rush around being chased by helicopters with the power to send electrical pulses that can knock out telecoms towers to stop emails being sent.
  • Have the hero 'die' two thirds into the book, such as by drowning him, only to later reveal that he drowned in a perflourocarbon chamber - liquid that you can breath, just like in the film 'The Abyss', and more 'real science' from the pages of Wikipedia.
  • If your 3 heroes have been drowned, had limbs chopped off, or drained of their blood by a madman (who may or may not be a thought dead family member, but is now very much dead), don't waste time with CIA debriefings, or medical treatment. Have them chortle to themselves about what a strange evening it's been, and talk some weird psychobabble about the biggest secret of all, is the power of the mind - it's just we've all forgotten how to use it.
  • Think of the film rights. Having a book climax with 60 pages to go gives away that it's not quite the ending, but in a cinema it'll be too dark for people to see their watches, and they'll all be really shocked when they realise there's still more to come.

So did I like it? I'm not telling, but if you look very carefully I've hidden a code of my own on this very page. Can you find it?

See, Dan Brown's got nothing on me.

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