How Can He Get Away with That?

I have now read one-fourth of the way through a thousand page novel. Four hundred pages into Tom Clancy’s The Bear and the Dragon. And, other than in the first chapter, the action is just now beginning. Finally.

Clancy is the quintessential example of how not to write a book, at least according to all the how-to’s I’ve read. He has far too many settings. In this one, we’re dealing with the United States, of course, and China, Russia, and Siberia, with a little bit of England, Italy, and the Vatican thrown in, because, after all, if it’s not confusing, it’s not Clancy.

Each setting has its own assortment of characters. I took the time to count the major characters in China alone. Ten. Ten complicated names and ranks to remember. Not to mention what he does with the American characters. Each one has a first and last name, a title, a nickname, a codename, and an interesting array alphabet soup after his title, or as his title. And Clancy calls each one by each handle he can think of. Jack Ryan, now the President, is aka, Jack, Ryan, POTUS, SWORDSMAN, Mr. President, and a few unmentionable names used by those not fond of his policies. He’s the easy one. But in one dialogue, Clancy will call him by each of the titles. And Ryan could be talking to CincPac, SecNav, or FLOTUS, it doesn’t matter–Clancy uses each of Ryan’s titles, and the other people are called each of theirs. Which leads to another habit Clancy has: using the name of the person multiple times in a dialogue. Like this:

“Well, Jack, it’s like this . . .” CincPac said.

“I realize that, Robby, . . .”  SWORDSMAN pointed out.

Even when Jack and Robby are the only ones involved in dialogue.

Clancy writes in omniscient POV, which means he gets his exercise head-hopping and editorializing. He is far more likely to tell than to show, and to explain what he does show, as if we wouldn’t get the emotion he’s trying to portray. Aside from that, he goes on for pages ad infinitum  about a character’s opinions and thoughts that may or may not be relevant–you won’t know until you finish the book. By page four hundred, I still don’t know whether Golovko’s opinion of Anitoly is important.

In other words, Clancy gets away with things the rest of us don’t dare do.

So, why do I read him? I’m a huge Clancy fan. What books of his I don’t have, I make up for in movies based on his books. And, I know that his roller coaster takes a bit longer than most to wind up, but once it gets moving, I’m in for a nail-biting ride. I know this. So do millions of other Clancy fans.

I’d love to know how he got his first book published. My first was long on prose and short on dialogue, too. I head-hopped, I kept the readers distant from the characters. The readers were ghosts roaming about through the pages watching the action happen, with me, the omnipotent one, explaining everything as they moved along.

The difference? My books are character-driven.

Even though I’m a quarter of the way through his novel, and there hasn’t been a lot in the way of action, Clancy’s book is action-driven. His novels are complex, taking on the world and creating crises of earth-shattering proportion. And he strives for realism as best he can, which means that he must have more than one or two characters, he must have multiple settings, and he must have time to familiarize his readers to the key characters, settings, and issues.

His books make great movies. Many of the things he spends pages introducing his readers to can be visualized in one simple scene of a movie. Which is why, once I’ve watched the movie, I can’t then go back and read the book. Takes too long. Gets too confusing. And besides, those folks in Hollywood always edit. I tried reading The Hunt for Red October after seeing the film. It doesn’t end where the movie does. I kept thinking I’d be reaching the conclusion soon, but the book went on forever compared to the movie.

But since The Bear and the Dragon is an older book, I guess Hollywood isn’t going to make it into a movie. And I’m not going to get it read sitting here fussing about it.

Besides, I’m getting to the good part!

About Linda W. Yezak

Author/Freelance Editor/Speaker (writing and editing topics).
This entry was posted in Authors, Writing Tips and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to How Can He Get Away with That?

  1. K.M. Weiland says:

    I have to admit I’ve never read Clancy, but I’ve experienced some of the same thoughts over Robert Ludlum’s books. More and more, I’m becoming wary of reading popular veteran authors; too often, I find myself disappointed by their verbosity and sloppiness. Perhaps this is due in part to the pressure of their fame and their need to churn out at least one book a year? If that’s the case, it’s a real shame. 😦


  2. pprmint777 says:

    I like Robert Ludlum, too. But, like you, I’m noticing some sloppy writing in some of my favorite authors. Sometimes I think it’s because I’m learning more about writing, how to refine and improve it, that I notice flaws in the works of others.

    But sometimes, I wonder just who’s critiquing their work for them? Someone somewhere is falling down on the job!


  3. Jess says:

    Once you become a writer and start learning and getting critiqued, you’re never able to read a book for enjoyment again. You read to learn novels to learn from them and see how your favorite authors do things. Sad, isn’t it? They can break the rules coming and going because they have track records but we can’t. LOL

    Pat yourself on the back. One day newbies are going to be reading your books and saying… how can she get away with doing that. 🙂


  4. Linda Yezak says:

    Reblogged this on 777 Peppermint Place and commented:

    Not feeling too great today, so I settled for a repost. Still love Clancy, and he still drives me nuts.


  5. clayfoot2 says:

    I think part of why it seems so wrong is that Clancy and Ludlum both write in a style no longer in fashion. When each of them published their first novels, omniscient POVs, head-hopping, and other such issues weren’t the authorial crimes that editors, crit partners, and how-to-write books now claim they are. Fashion dictates the current style, but current fashion rules aren’t always effective in judging the styles of previous years or eras. But as “big name” authors, they have signature styles which they (and their publishers) didn’t feel needed updating to the most current fashion.


    • Linda Yezak says:

      You’re so right. I’ve noticed several authors of the genre have shifted from omniscient to a distant third, where they don’t head-hop but they aren’t in the deep POV required of some other genres. I think it’s a good shift. Distant third doesn’t make me as nuts as omniscient does. As for Clancy and Ludlum–why mess with success? 😀


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