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.

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  1. Jessica |

    Hi Haleigh,
    Goes to show that a good story trumps writing. I've heard that his writing isn't so great but that the book is unputdownable. (lol, I know that's not a word)
    Maybe someday I'll read it.
    Twilight was like this. I didn't care for the writing at all but eventually I started to get into the story.
    Good lesson. I love hooks and you're an ace at POV.

  2. haleigh |

    Hi Jessie - you're right, a great story can out-trump any writing. I had the same reaction to Twilight too - I couldn't put down any of those books! I love characters or suspense that grabs me and won't let go :)


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