TitleThe Partner
Author: john grisham
Genre: legal thriller
Pages: 466
Publisher: Doubleday
Publish date: 1997
Excerpt Length: 312 words

They found him in Ponta Pora, a pleasant little town in Brazil, on the border of Paraguay, in a land still known as the Frontier.
They found him living in a shaded brick house on Rua Tiradentes, a wide avenue with trees down the center and barefoot boys dribbling soccer balls along the hot pavement.
They found him alone, as best they could tell, though a maid came and went at odd hours during the eight days they hid and watched.
They found him living a comfortable life but certainly not one of luxury. The house was modest and could’ve been owned by any local merchant. The car was a 1983 Volkswagen Beetle, manufactured in Sao Paulo with a million others. It was red and clean, polished to a shine. Their first photo of him was snapped as he waxed it just inside the gate to his short driveway.
They found him much thinner, down considerably from the two hundred and thirty pounds he’d been carrying when last seen. His hair and skin were darker, his chin had been squared, and his nose had been slightly pointed. Subtle changes to the face. They’d paid a steep bribe to the surgeon in Rio who’d performed the alterations two and a half years earlier.
They found him after four years of tedious but diligent searching, four years of dead ends and lost trails and false tips, four years of pouring good money down the drain, good money chasing bad, it seemed.
But they found him. And they waited. There was at first the desire to snatch him immediately, to drug him and smuggle him to a safe house in Paraguay, to seize him before he saw them or before a neighbor became suspicious. The initial excitement of the finding made them consider a quick strike, but after two days they settled down and waited.

I’m sure, just as I did, you found the piece extremely easy to read. It flows. It works. It works because every sentence, every word does its job. Grisham’s writing is compact.

It is so compact that I can teach at least four concepts of fiction writing using only the first two sentences.

1. Powerful Beginnings
From the very first sentence Grisham places two strong questions in the mind of the reader without using a question mark. Who is he and who found him? The reader wants to continue reading until she learns the answers.

2. Style and Voice
Grisham uses repetition to set a fast pace, drawing the reader inexorably into the story sentence by sentence. Notice how easy it is to keep reading. The repetition continues and builds a sinister narration, which mirrors the psychological persistence of being chased.

3. Setting
Grisham masterfully describes the setting while creating tension in the reader’s mind. Who are they? What do they want? Are they good guys or bad guys? Along with the setting he provides description that doesn’t slow down: “barefoot boys dribbling soccer balls.”
Fantastic description the reader can see.

########## Sidebar : Action Is Now #####################
Are things happening in the stories you write, or are they only described by the narrator’s voice? To write powerfully, take this lesson from Grisham and make everything you write have movement.
This is the essence of “show don’t tell”.

Prefer: Robert blinked as the bright morning sunlight danced upon the water. He raised his left hand and shielded his eyes as he guided the small sailboat toward the harbor’s opening.

Eschew: It was a bright morning in the harbor and Robert wondered if he would be able to guide his boat through the narrow harbor opening without trouble.

4. Pace
Even as Grisham describes the setting, there’s no pausing. The sentences are so well written and easy to read, the reader is pulled headlong into the story.

Blog Too Long, But Can’t Stop Now
Okay, I could end there and that would be a blog entry that is plenty long for anyone, however, I want to introduce and discuss my Shadow Writing Method, which will actually show you how to learn to write from any book. That means this entry is going to go a bit long. If it’s too long, just break up the reading into two days.

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Shadow Writing Method
Just as the great visual media artists of the past learned by copying the masters, so too should the students of the literary arts.
The shadowing method found in the Writer’s Invisible Mentor (WIM) — my other blog — teaches the novice effective use of voice and style (two of the most difficult to learn, yet most important tools to a writer).

Here’s the process we would use based upon the Grisham sample above:
1) Count the number of words in each sentence: 25 and 30. This is to get an idea of whether the author is using long or short sentences or if they are varied in length.
2) Examine the first sentence and determine what element of fiction it most conveys.
a. Does the sentence describe character, setting, a thing, a concept? Decide what it most conveys to you as a reader.
b. To me, the two sentences convey setting.
3) Create a similar sentence to the one you just read.

First Draft
Here’s my first draft

When the chinook salmon run on Red Rock River, the locals run too; they run with their fishing tackle. When the chinook salmon run, the residents of Innabrunk, Connecticut, a town with one gas station where gray-haired men sip coffee before dawn, find themselves in the midst of history, but they don’t care because they’re too busy catching fish.

Examination of First Draft
I think my first example catches some of the spirit of our original, but is entirely different. This can be construed as good or bad. How much influence of the original do you want upon your writing? Let’s assume we desire more influence from the master’s example.

I think the biggest difference between my first draft and the original is in mystery. The master’s original leaves a question in mind (who?) whereas my draft tells everything up front. Let me try again.

Second Draft
He discovered it before anyone else in the sleepy town of Philsbruck, Minnesota had even opened their eyes for the day. He discovered it buried under a wagon, behind Tom’s house in a large field where he and Tom had ridden motorcycles, when they were younger and still friends.

Mine is not exactly the same. That’s because I am not John Grisham. Do you see how this method can teach you to write like a professional writer very quickly?

The Secret Process
I’ve opened this process up to everyone by posting here. Very few novice writers know that you can apply a process to writing. As my blog progresses I’ll share more processes for writing with you.

Controversy Anyone?
Some may say, “You can’t do that. That isn’t being true to the art of writing. That is copying.”
I disagree.

I believe this is innovation and accelerated learning. Besides consider this a learning tool and nothing more. If it helps you learn to write better (and it will) then it is valid.

Moden Painters Influenced by Historical Painters
And another thing, can you really make a sound argument that current painters are not stimulated, affected, influenced by the great painters of history? Of course they are, and yet they are original.

Creation In a Vacuum
None of us create in a vacuum. If we did, then everything we created would suck.
Haha. Get it? Suck / vacuum. Get it? Ho ho, I’m so funny.

Tailspin by Catherine Coulter
Next blog entry will analyze the book, Tailspin, by Catherine Coulter. It is my least favorite book from the 100 books that I’ve chosen to analyze, but it provides valuable lessons for our writing.
See you next time and thanks for any comments you offer.