Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lee Child-Master of Suspense

Writtn by:
Ed Benjamin

I am an unabashed admirer of author Lee Child and his Jack Reacher series of books.  The first book of the series I read was “One Shot”, the ninth book in the series.  After finishing it, I promptly went and started reading all the other books in the series beginning with first one, “The Killing Floor”, and then read the remaining books in the series in order.  Of course, like millions of readers I was fascinated by the character of Jack Reacher, ex-military policemen and drifter, who lives by his own set of rules and unique sense of justice. 

Granted Jack Reacher is an interesting man.  He is a big man and a brilliant investigator.  He can handle himself with fists, knives, and all manner of firearms.  He knows how to win fights and fights dirty because he fights to win.  When confronted against bad guys, he has no hesitation about sending them to a past life without judge or jury.  He is a remarkable investigator who knows the ways of the world and uses this knowledge to make interesting deductions.  Jack can reach a conclusion based upon the evidence provided to the reader which is surprising yet logical.  Interesting as the character is, this alone did not account for my fascination with the series.  What was it?

As I continued to read this series, I recognized Lee Child was able to capture my attention and keep it until the end of each book.  What was it which totally captivated me?  What continued to enthrall and mesmerize the millions who, like me, wait to be taken on the next Jack Reacher adventure?

I came to realize that something more than the uniqueness of Jack Reacher had kept me reading the series and kept me waiting in anticipation for the release of the next Jack Reacher adventure.  What was it that prompted me to order the Jack Reacher short stories prepared in digital form and available on Kindle.  There, again, the same thing hit me.  In the story, “Second Son”, why was I so drawn to this character and a story about his investigative prowess when he was a teenager on the island of Okinawa? 

The answer is remarkably simple and it took an article by Lee Child in the New York Times to make me realize his genius.

A former television producer, Mr. Child, like many other producers, had to deal with the invention of the remote control.  They had to come up with a solution to keep viewers from changing channels during commercials.  As ar result, the television programs began to ask questions just before each act ended so that the viewers would stay tuned to receive the answer to the question posed. The Jack Reacher series is so successful because the author has worked so hard to master the art of asking a question and placing this question in the reader’s mind keeps them turning pages until they find out the answer. 

As the author explained in his article

…. “How do you create suspense?” has the same interrogatory shape as “How do you bake a cake?” And we all know — in theory or practice — how to bake a cake. We need ingredients, and we infer that the better quality those ingredients are, the better quality the cake will be. We know that we have to mix and stir those ingredients, and we’re led to believe that the more thoroughly and conscientiously we combine them, the better the cake will taste. We know we have to cook the cake in an oven, and we figure that the more exact the temperature and timing, the better the cake will look.

So writers are taught to focus on ingredients and their combination. They’re told they should create attractive, sympathetic characters, so that readers will care about them deeply, and then to plunge those characters into situations of continuing peril, the descent into which is the mixing and stirring, and the duration and horrors of which are the timing and temperature.

But it’s really much simpler than that. “How do you bake a cake?” has the wrong structure. It’s too indirect. The right structure and the right question is: “How do you make your family hungry?”

And the answer is: You make them wait four hours for dinner.” From the Lee Child article, “A Smple Way to Create suspense” 12/08/2012 New York Times 

It seems like such a simple answer.  If only the application of that theory were so simple?  Then, the world would have my name on their lips as a master of suspense instead of Lee Child.  Now, what was my name again?
Ed Benjamin is the author of a bestselling book on getting government business and the spine-tingling, nail-biting aviation thriller novella, HARRY'S WAR. He also posts short fiction on his blog Harry Miles-Adventures at  His Twitter handle is @colbenjamin
Ed Benjamin

Here is the Amazon universal link to my novella,

Here is a copy of my HARRY’S WAR novella cover.

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