This is the second day of Thrillerfest and I adore the Grand Hyatt Bar, so this morning I was
He started with a list of ways that thrillers can be driven.
Here's the list:
It can be high or low but most thrillers have a succinctly explainable concept. Mark used JURASSIC PARK as an example of a concept driven thriller: A scientist clones dinosaurs and the experiment goes terribly awry. When you're finished reading the book, what you want to talk about is the concept of the book: the very cool idea of cloning dinosaurs. The book has other elements but the "calling card" is the concept.
It can be the continuous twists as in TELL NO ONE by Harlan Coben, or it can be the ending as in PRIMAL FEAR by William Diehl but when what happens is the "real fun" of the book, that's a plot driven thriller.
It can be the beautiful prose of books like NIGHT SOLDIERS by Alan Furst ("that man can really write!") or brutal prose like that of Charlie Huston in CAUGHT STEALING -- when it's the writing you talk about, that's when prose is the strongest point of a novel.
4. CHARACTER: When the people you meet are why you like the book. They can be the good guy like the Reacher novels by Lee Child, or the villain as in SILENCE OF THE LAMBS but when you want to talk about the characters, that's when CHARACTER is one of the novel's strengths.
5. SUSPENSE (or tension)
FAITHFUL SPY by Alex Berenson has an immediate ticking clock that lets the reader know something must happen soon. Almost anything by Stephen King will be masterful suspense; one of his best is MISERY. This can also be thought of as "page-turning."
6. EMOTIONAL IMPACT
How much the reader gets attached to the characters and their ordeal. A great example of a novel with intense emotional impact is MYSTIC RIVER by Dennis Lehane.
A classic example of a book published at just the right moment in time was THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER. It had information that wasn't available to the everyday reader and came out at a time when the tensions with the Soviet Union were ratcheting up. Historical novels can also have relevance: history is key to the story in THE DANTE CLUB by Matthew Pearl.
Does the reader believe the story can happen? John LeCarre's TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY made us all believe in the world of spies. (Mark didn't mention THE WIRE but that's always my example when I talk about fiction feeling very very real)
Mark used this list to help us decide what the strengths of a novel are. There can be more than one (he used GORKY PARK as an example and gave it 10 out of 10 in each category except plot and emotional impact) Knowing what a novel's strengths are helps an agent talk about it to an editor. It helps the author know what s/he's good at. And you don't have to be good in all things. A high concept novel may not have great prose. It might not have much plot (JAWS doesn't have much plot but oh boy does it have suspense!)
This was a terrific presentation; the only drawback was it wasn't long enough. Just about the time I'd finished feverishly writing notes, it was over.