Revisiting My Favorite Author, a Post by R. Clint Peters

As I’ve mentioned several times, my favorite author is John D. MacDonald, specifically, the Travis McGee series.  I recently visited my local library and checked out two of the novels.

Mr. MacDonald wrote 21 Travis McGee books, and countless other books, short stories, and articles during his lifetime.

I was amazed to discover that both books broke most of the rules I’ve been told are sacrosanct for authors:  1) Show don’t tell;  2)  Keep sentences under 25 words (preferably 20); 3)  Dialog should be the same as natural conversation; and 4) Break up the paragraphs into themes.

Almost from the beginning of the first book I read, I noticed a theme:  The paragraphs could often consume a full page, the dialog consumed two or three paragraphs before someone else said anything (absolutely impossible at my house), and I actually counted a sentence (there were 60 words in it).

Granted, the book was copyrighted in 1971, which was long before all of the articles available on the Internet, and styles change in 44 years.  I doubt anyone writes like Tolstoy, Hemingway, or Asimov and finds success.  The Internet has made learning about writing so much easier.

Here are some of my takes on the two books I read:

One paragraph narratives that consumed a full page or more, with several distinct topics.   Many could be broken down into five or six smaller paragraphs.

One paragraph dialog, again, a full page (or more), with several topics that could be broken down into several smaller paragraphs.

Extensive narrative, in the first person (Travis McGee), that attempted to explain the emotions the hero was experiencing.  Again, large paragraphs with six or seven subjects.

I did find the books enjoyable to read, but I became bogged down in the lengthy narration and dialog.  Often, I just wanted the speaker to shut up so I could rest a bit.  Or have Travis turn off his thoughts, again, so I could take a break.  The problem was feeling compelled to finish the paragraph, while a trip to the kitchen for a refill was needed.

I’m not changing my mind about John D. MacDonald or Travis McGee.  MacDonald is still my favorite author and McGee my favorite hero.  In fact, when I return my books to the library, I plan to pick up two more.

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