by J.D. Rhoades
Did you ever fly a kite in bed?
Did you ever walk with ten cats on your head?
If you never did, you should.
These things are fun, and fun is good.
There are a lot of things that go into making a great book: plot, pacing, characterization, dialogue, etc. Today, I’d like to talk about another, often-overlooked factor: fun.
Not a lot of people talk about what makes a book fun to read. That’s probably because it’s such a hard thing to quantify. But if a book is fun to read, people will keep coming back to it, and they’ll anxiously await the next one.
For purposes of these posts, I’m not just talking about books being funny. Certainly a book that makes you laugh is fun. But there are some “serious” works that are just a sheer hoot to read and/or watch. In my next few posts, I’ll be talking about some of the things that make a book or movie fun (to me at least).
First, we’ll talk about one of my favorites: the badass factor.
From Beowulf to Jack Reacher, we do love our badasses, those unstoppable, unkillable guys and gals who take a licking and keep on kicking, right up till the end when l they either triumph, or in the case of badass villains, go down with their guns (and sometimes themselves) blazing.
One of the things, for example, that makes Jonathan Maberry’s zombie-driven thriller PATIENT ZERO so much fun is that its main character, Joe Ledger, is a serious badass, and he knows it. It’s right there in the book’s dynamite first line: “When you have to kill the same terrorist twice in one week, there’s either something wrong with your skills or something wrong with your world. And there’s nothing wrong with my skills.”
That passage illustrates one of the things that makes a bad-ass a bad-ass (and thus adds to the fun): an extraordinary self-assurance, born of an uber-competence in the fields of crushing enemies, seeing them driven before them, and hearing the lamentation of their women. Robert Crais’ Joe Pike, for example, adds a huge fun factor to the Elvis Cole books by simply being the absolute best at disposing of bad guys without hardly breaking a sweat or even taking off his shades. And the books featuring Pike (there’s a new one out-YAY!) are, yes, serious fun.
The writer should be warned, though. There’s a very fine line between the type of confidence that tickles the reader’s fun center and the kind that stimulates the eye-rolling nerve.
Another form of bad-assery is the Sheer Stubborn Endurance kind, exemplfied by Bruce Willis’ John McClain in the frst DIE HARD movie. Blown up, burned, feet cut to ribbons, he just keeps coming after the bad guys. Another example: Inigo Montoya in THE PRINCESS BRIDE, who, though badly wounded, gets up, raises his sword, and delivers his signature line, over and over, until he finally does in the man who killed his father, after this classic exchange:
Inigo Montoya: Offer me anything I ask for.
Count Rugen: Anything you want…
Inigo Montoya (runs Rugen through): I want my father back, you son of a bitch.
Which brings us to the Badass Moments, in which a character’s true awesomeness is exhibited, often through a single line or gesture. Example: the moment in the first episode of the TV series FIREFLY when Captain Mal Reynolds comes striding up the ship’s cargo ramp into the middle of a tense standoff, sees one of his people being held hostage, draws, shoots the hostage taker dead without breaking stride, and moves on to getting the ship flying.
Another type of Badass Moment comes when someone who’d previously been the hunted turns into the lion and starts whomping the snot out of bad guys right and left. Example: the moment in ALIENS when the hangar door opens to reveal Ripley, driving that giant exoskeleton and snarling “GET away from her, you BITCH!”
Rule of thumb: Any moment that makes you want to leap up, pump your fist in the air and holler ‘Hell YEAH!” increases the fun factor exponentially.
LORD OF THE RINGS, (the book version) is fun, in large part, because it’s chock full o’badasses and badass moments, like: Aragorn standing on the walls of the surrounded Helm’s Deep and telling the million or so nasties teeming about below him that no one’s ever taken that fortress and that the ridiculously outnumbered defenders will let them live if they run away now; Theodens’ pre-charge speech and the Ride of the Rohirrim, and my favorite, when Eowyn, after being warned by the Nazgul that no man can kill him, whips off her helmet and gives her “No man am I” speech (a Badass Moment if there ever was one). And let’s face it, when it comes to Sheer Stubborn Endurance badassery, the name’s Gamgee. Sam Gamgee.
So tell me: who are your favorite badasses? And for future posts: what makes a book not just good, but FUN?
Next time: The Audacity Factor, or Oh, No, He Did NOT Just Do That!