The Da Vinci Code - take 2


Written on Thursday, April 30, 2009 by haleigh

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Earlier in the week, I rambled on about the alternating chapter hooks in The Da Vinci Code and how I felt that really made a huge difference in the pace of the novel, and contributed to the suspense.

But besides the hooks (or perhaps leading directly to the amazing ability to create 105 chapter hooks), is the raising stakes in almost every chapter. Every single time I thought things were coming together or falling into place, another wrench was thrown in. On numerous occasions, I thought there was no way they were getting out of this. And of course, they managed it, but over and over again, the stakes went up, the danger got worse, or their chances got slimmer. The characters never had a chance to take a deep breath, and neither did the reader.

Now, I’ve read other books like that before, but I didn’t have the same reaction, and it’s taken me a while, but I think I’ve figured out the difference. Before, when reading books so fast paced, I just set it down and felt exhausted. Every time things got better for the characters, something new happened, and the suspense/fast pace started all over again. My reaction was along the lines of, really? Again? With The Da Vinci Code, there was no pause. There was no moment of relaxation, no thought that everything was finally working.

I’m a visual person, so charts work best for me:

My point is, in The Da Vinci Code, there was no up and down. There was just a steep climb up, and then a hold at uber-suspense while all the seemingly loose pieces came together.

Now, in romance, we usually want that up and down motion. Or at least, I think we do. In a straight romance, we want lulls, times when the relationship seems to be going right, where you can have love scenes and sweet intimate moments to show them falling in love. If the conflict line just went straight up, at a steep angle, you’d miss all the falling in love moments (somebody correct me if you think of romances where the conflict had no lulls).

But I think in suspense, or at least what seemed to work in this book, was the straight, steep climb. Every single scene built on the scene before it. Every piece of new information added to the suspense. And when one question was finally answered, there were already two new ones introduced, so even the answering of questions didn’t create that lull.

I don’t know what this means for romantic suspense. It’s almost as if you need to two charts above in the same novel: suspense that grows and escalates without lulls, but romance that offers just enough lulls in the conflict to develop the relationship. Is that possible?

the Da Vinci Code - take 1


Written on Tuesday, April 28, 2009 by haleigh

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

We choose The Da Vinci Code for my reading this semester for its suspense and pacing. I read a lot of romantic suspense, but hadn’t read any straight suspense, and I was intrigued to see suspense after the romance has been stripped out.

And boy did the Da Vinci Code fulfill that. I had been warned, on multiple occasions, that I wouldn’t be able to set it down. No shocker, they were right. I gobbled this book down, and even after I finished it as fast as possible, couldn’t stop thinking about it. I even had creepy dreams about monks in brown robes and the Mona Lisa. And of course, I read it on vacation, where I don’t have internet access, so I’m still thinking about all the paintings described and desperate to look them up and see if I can spot the symbolism.

My first reaction, when I started reading, was that I hated the writing. I still do. The POV, while limited 3rd person, was shallow to the point of feeling more like omniscient. There were enough flashbacks to give some character depth, but the shallow POV killed me. And I don’t think there was any showing. At all. Everything was told to me. After finishing it, I was trying to determine if it was more Langdon or Sophie’s story. And I realized that the reason I couldn’t decide was because it was Dan Brown’s story – the one he told me, not the one the characters told me.

So when I first started reading I was dreading to have to read an entire novel told to me and full of things like “What should I do next?” he thought. But within 50 pages, I forgot all my complaints about the writing and just kept reading.

I was reading for suspense and pacing, but the more I read and thought about it, the more I think they go hand in hand. The pace is what created the suspense. And wow, was there some phenomenal pacing going on.

The book is 105 chapters long. And every chapter ended on a hook. Every single one of them. But not only did each chapter end on a hook, but probably about 70-80% of the time, the next chapter was a different POV or setting. So when chapter 42 ends in a hook in Character A’s POV, chapter 43 jumps to Character B’s POV, and their situation/setting. It might be chapter 45 before you get back to the hook that had you gasping at the end of chapter 42. (Clearly, these are mostly 2-5 pg chapters).

So often, with a good chapter hook, whatever questions raised are answered on the facing page, in the first paragraph of the next chapter. I think part of what makes the pacing here so good is that you don’t have that option. You’ve got to read 2 or 3 more chapters, and each of those have a good hook. So now, you finally have the questions at the end of chapter 42 answered, but you’ve got ten more questions burning in your head, so you have to read a few more chapters, and then you’ve got those new questions….you get the idea. There’s nowhere to stop.

At an intellectual level, you always hear how important chapter hooks are. But The Da Vinci Code takes chapter hooks to a whole new level. And really, they could be called scene hooks just as easily as chapter hooks, as the chapters were short. There were very few traditional scene breaks, as almost every new scene was its own chapter. But I think really, the amazing pace came from not only the chapter hooks, but the alternating hooks, if I can make that up as a new phrase.

Tomorrow - my thoughts on how the raising of the stakes created additional suspense.