- Never open a book with weather.
- Avoid prologues.
- Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said"…he admonished gravely.
- Keep your exclamation points under control.
- Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
In my previous entry, I looked at the 19th century with representative works of Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson. The publications of these novels were spaced out over the decades (1830, 1853, 1886) and each were by British authors writing stories set in England.
In order to continue my analysis into the 20th century, I chose Joseph Conrad as my first candidate. Having learned English as a young adult, Conrad wielded his adopted tongue with precision. With a foreigner's eye he saw England not just as a caste-system of mannerisms, but as a two-faced landscape of heros who were antiheros and antiheros who were antiheros. He dissected the horrors of imperialism in Journey Into Darkness, and, in The Secret Agent, he took apart the nascent worlds of espionage and terrorism. In every sense, this work is the perfect entry to follow Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Stevenson's book was published in 1886 and set in London. The Secret Agent was published in 1907 and set in 1886 London. Both dealt with individuals with dual personalities. The Secret Agent is a step forward into the future and acknowledgment of the past.
Joseph Conrad: The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale (1907). 90,100 words.
No prologue and doesn't begin with a storm. No suh, no problems with patois.
The list of sins.
- 57 suddenly's. (6.3 per 10,000 words)
- 250 exclamation marks! (27.7 per 10,000 words)
- 212 dialogue tags that begin with "he" or "she." "Said" represented 75 entries while a dizzying 56 other verbs made up the remaining 137. (35.4% said)
- Of the first fifty instances where said appears as a dialogue tag, twelve had an adverb modifier. (24%).
Verdict: Although Conrad helped develop the modern novel with his use of troubled, ambivalent protagonists, the author continues to lean on the conventions of Victorian writing. On the other hand, others have described his work as "fully awesome."
At long last we cross the Atlantic to look at a work that defined the flint-hearted private eye. The drinks are stiff and the dames deadly. One expects little by the way of nonsense and a slap across the face for breaking Leonard's rules, or as Spade says: "And when you're slapped you'll take it and like it." While the previous entries in my analysis were in public domain which allowed downloading and ready counting by computer program, this and the following books were hand tallied.
Dashiell Hammett: The Maltese Falcon (1930). 66,373 words.
No prologue; no opening with weather. No problems with patois.
The list of sins.
- 13 suddenly's. (2.0 per 10,000 words)
- 75 exclamation marks! (11.3 per 10,000 words) (14 dialogue exclamation marks when the true nature of the statuette is revealed.)
- 320 dialogue tags that begin with "he" or "she." "Said" represented 178 entries while other dialogue verbs made up the remaining 142 (55.6% said)
- Of the first fifty instances where said appears as a dialogue tag, seven had an adverb modifier. (14%).
Verdict: Lean and mean, a no-nonsense form of writing.
Star Wars is a great film. Its success, however, helped cripple great film-making, evicting edgy auteurs from the studios and launching Hollywood on a blockbuster escapist binge that continues to this day. Thomas Harris's The Silence of the Lambs suffers from this same curse. Its immense popularity unleashed such an onslaught[er] of fictional serial killers that it is hard to walk through the mystery section of a bookstore without having book covers demanding your liver and slurping at you.
On the other hand, it is impossible to ignore its direct and forceful storytelling and its creation of iconic characters. It is ranked #16 among the Mystery Writers of America's list of the top 100 mystery novels of all time.
Thomas Harris: The Silence of the Lambs. (1988) 97,811 words.
No prologue, no opening with weather. No problems with patois.
The list of sins.
- 9 suddenly's. (0.9 per 10,000 words)
- 16 exclamation marks! (1.6 per 10,000 words)
- 99 dialogue tags that begin with "he" or "she." "Said" represented 91 entries while other dialogue verbs made up the remaining 8 (91.9% said)
- Of the first fifty instances where said appears as a dialogue tag, zero had an adverb modifier. (0%) This does not mean it did not occur in the book, just not in the first fifty sampled.
Verdict: I raise a toast with a big Amarone.
For Thomas Harris, in the first fifty uses of the word "said," none of were marked with an adverb.
Said % reflects how often "said" was used to tag dialogue compared to other verbs "commented," "grumbled," etc.
Said/adverb % reflects the percentage of times (in the first fifty occurrences) that "said" is modified with an adverb.
Further details of the method of the analysis are in the first post.
Nikola Tesla, Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr. Henry H. Holmes are all characters in my thriller, A Predator's Game.
A Predator's Game is available in soft-cover and ebook editions through Amazon and other online retailers.
A Predator's Game, now available, Rook's Page Publishing.
Back page blurb.
When the author Arthur Conan Doyle meets Nikola Tesla he finds a tall, thin genius with a photographic memory and a keen eye, and recognizes in the eccentric inventor the embodiment of his creation, Sherlock. Together, they team up to take on an "evil Holmes." Multi-murderer Dr. Henry H. Holmes has escaped execution and is unleashing a reign of terror upon the metropolis. Set in the late nineteenth century in a world of modern marvels, danger and invention, Conan Doyle and Tesla engage the madman in a deadly game of wits.
Martin Hill Ortiz, also writing under the name, Martin Hill, is the author of A Predatory Mind. Its sequel, set in 1890s Manhattan and titled A Predator's Game, features Nikola Tesla as detective.