Thursday, April 27, 2006

Dan Brown: Burgeoning Hack

The scientist had the look of eagles in his eyes.

No, Dan Brown didn’t write that last sentence –- even though I wouldn’t be surprised if he had. I’m amazed how many people think Dan Brown is such a good writer. Sorry, I ain’t buying.

Yup, Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code are both best sellers. But because something is popular doesn’t mean it can hold up to some scrutiny. I enjoy a good story; there’s nothing wrong with great entertainment. But because something is “entertainment” doesn’t mean that its crappy flaws have to be excused.

Intro To Creative Writing -- Rule #1: Never stoop to having your character conveniently look into a mirror and describe himself in detail to the reader. Brown does this both of his books, right in the opening scenes, to introduce his hero. In The Da Vinci Code he also has one of the villains study his reflection in an airplane window for the benefit of the reader.

A good writer can bring a character to life without the character obsessing with his looks in a reflection. When Brown writes his autobiography, maybe he’ll have a mirror hanging over his computer.

Besides the mirror cheat, Brown evinces hackism by overwriting at times. For example, his description of a French police inspector investigating the murder scene in The Da Vinci Code. The inspector stands there with shoulders thrown back, his chin buried into his chest. What happened? Was this inspector walking down a Parisian street when someone defenestrated a small safe from the fifth floor, hitting said inspector on the back of his head?

Shoulders thrown back, chin in chest. Try it. In front of a mirror. Hurts, don’t it? How stupid do you look? That stupid, huh?

I don’t remember if the inspector ever stood with his arms akimbo. If he did, he would’ve blown apart from the extreme tension.

Trudging along, let’s examine this ripe bit from Angels & Demons, a description of an anti-matter bomb exploding over Rome at night:

“It shot out in all directions, accelerating with incomprehensible speed, gobbling up the dark. As the sphere of light grew, it intensified, like a burgeoning fiend preparing to consume the entire sky.”

OK, if the blast accelerated at an “incomprehensible speed,” would it have time to “gobble” up the dark? Wouldn’t it simply obliterate the night in an instant? A fast-slow explosion. Sounds oxymoronic. Or at least turgid. But not as turgid as the term “burgeoning fiend.” Is that anything like a flourishing imp? A budding boogeyman? A sprouting sprite?

But Dan Brown doesn’t have to worry. He can produce rough patches of purple prose in his novels and still make the bestseller lists. After all, he has the look of dollar signs in his eyes.

[Note: To give credit (or blame) where it’s due: Robert Moore Williams wrote about the eagle-eyed scientist in the classic low-fi sci-fi novel, The Day They H-Bombed Los Angeles (1961). Unlike Brown’s bestsellers, I found Moore’s novel to be entertaining, in a train wreck sort of way. Try to top this plot: A rogue protein molecule menaces mankind. After being struck by a stray cosmic ray, the mutated protein infects humans, transforming victims into howling zombies.]

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