Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Rock and the Element of Surprise

By Kimberly Johnson

Not the one off the southern tip of Spain. I’m talking about the former pro
wrestler, Dwayne Johnson. He’s an element of surprise.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a formidable foe against Randy Orton and John
Cena. As The Rock, he entertained screaming fans in the squared circle with
24-hour trash-talking, power-drill moves and bulging biceps. Plus, he’s a good looking guy. With a killer smile. The Rock shifted away from body slams and into a pink tutu. Dwayne Johnson played the tooth fairy along with Julie Andrews. So, when Dwayne Johnson took the driver’s seat in the flick, Faster; I wanted to ride shotgun.

I’m a sucker for the who-dunnit genre and its first cousin, I-didn’t-know-he-dunnit.

In this movie, Dwayne plays a vigilante hunting down the gangsters who murdered
his brother. It’s the classic cops ‘n’ robbers theme—with a twist. Dwayne’s fresh out of prison with a mean streak a mile wide. He drives a vintage ride that all the men in the theater cheered for during the chase scenes. Billy Bob Thornton plays the slime ball, red-neck cop who is addicted to heroin. He’s on the trail of this vigilante, hoping this capture will bring him redemption. His partner thinks he’s a creep. His ex-wife thinks he’s a bigger creep. His pudgy son doesn’t know what to think.

Billy Bob turns out to be the bad guy. I didn’t see that one coming.

After leaving the theater, I wondered: How did the screenwriters keep me
guessing? I answered that question with Internet research. The Writers Digest website posted an article by Simon Wood ( It lists nine tricks to writing suspense fiction. Here are the highlights:
* For a good suspense story to work, what’s at stake must be stated at the
* Let the reader see the viewpoints of the protagonist and the antagonist.
* Create a really good villain. The bad guy is very visible. The best ones are
smart and motivated.
* Create dilemmas that keep the protagonist in awkward challenges.
* Pile on the problems. Give the protagonist more things than he can handle.

Not bad advice, Mr. Wood. So, I clicked over to crime novelist Michele Martinez.

Martinez is a former New York City federal prosecutor ( Martinez shares her struggles in a refreshing manner. Here are some observations that improved her writing:

I realized that generally the suspense novels I found the most engrossing were written in the third person and frequently told the story from more than one viewpoint. I had been working in the first person, but ultimately this felt too limiting technically. I wanted to show the reader action beyond things that
happened directly to my protagonist.

I realized I just hadn't structured my book carefully enough. I needed to pay more attention to the transitions between chapters, to give the reader that burning desire to keep turning the pages. I needed to hold back more, tease more.

Now, I know the secrets that Joe and Tony Gayton, the screenwriters for Faster, know. They employed point of view techniques and then reworked structural elements to produce the quintessential I-didn’t-know-he-dunnit flick. If I read about those techniques earlier, then, I would have figured out that Billy Bob was the bad guy.


Michelle Jones said...

KIMBERLY...I can not believe you just did that!

"Billy Bob turns out to be the bad guy."

On behalf of those of us who have not seen the movie yet, let me be the first to say...THANKS SO MUCH.


Ginny said...