Friday, July 1, 2011

Reminding the Reader--a Technique

Note: I've got a story up on The Alchemy of Writing today (Thanks, Bryan).You should read it, find something to criticize, comment, and then I'll vigorously defend whatever you criticize and we can turn it into an all-out flame war. It'll be fun.

And now a writerly post:

I've been working by way through Harlan Coben's Myron Bolitar books and just finished Promise Me. He uses an interesting technique at one point in the book that I don't remember seeing before. His main character, Myron, is listening to a voicemail. The voicemail refers to an event that happened earlier in the book, early enough that the reader has most likely forgotten about it (as I had). So Coben needs to remind the reader what's going on. Here's how he does it:

Myron got into his car and checked his cell phone. One new message. He listened to it.

"Myron? Gail Berruti here. That call you asked about, the one that came to the residence of Erik Biel." There was a noise behind her. "What? Damn, hold on a second."

Myron did. This was the call Claire had received from the robotic voice telling her that Aimee "is fine." A few seconds later, Berruti was back.

"Sorry about that. Where was I? Right, okay, here it is. The call was placed from a pay phone in New York City..."

Clever, huh? Not only does the distraction allow Coben to slip in the reminder, but it also strikes me as real. I've been disrupted while leaving a message quite a few times. The downside? I couldn't help wonder whether or not the distraction was important to the story. Was Berruti in some kind of danger? It took a few more sentences for me to realize that Coben only used it so he could slip in the reminder.


Anita said...

I've read all of Harlan's books, except for the latest one. His Bolitair series is cool because it appeals to men and women. He's struck a nerve and uses interesting techniques, like you've shown. He's not the best writer there ever was, but he's developed a loyal following. I admire him for that reason.

Unknown said...

He's got a young adult one out now, I think.

Matthew MacNish said...

That was an awesome story. Thanks, Paul!

Alexander Field said...

I haven't read much Harlan Coben, but I've thought about it many times. Maybe I should pick up the new one. His technique for reminding the reader keeps the story moving and doesn't dive into dull prose. Thanks for the example!