Friday, May 16, 2008

Formula for a Dean Koontz Thriller*

Title: The Good Guy
Author: Dean Koontz

Bookmark: my library card. That keeps me from checking out something else before I've finished.

"Where does an ordinary bricklayer suddenly get the grit to walk into the path of a car driven by a hitman , and shoot out the tires?"
"I'm not an ordinary bricklayer. I'm an excellent bricklayer."
Yes, sharp, snappy and occasionally campy dialog is a major part of any Dean Koontz book (especially if it involves obscure words, phrases, or usages that only a few people like surfers, masons, or poetry fans would understand), but what else do you need to write a full-fledged Dean Koontz thriller? Follow these easy steps and you, too can become a creepy horror writer!

  1. Introduce the Hero. Most likely a loner, he should have little to no family, but very close ties with his friends. To him, they are his family. Strong, possibly incorruptible moral fiber. Enjoys a cold beer, but does not use any illegal recreational drugs. Has a big secret in his past which has formed a good part of his current ways and personality. Military experience ranging from heroic to epic, though possibly clandestine. Even if no military experience is evident, your main character should still know how to operate and accurately fire any gun that may find its way to his hand.
  2. Introduce the Heroine. That's right. Not the "female lead," "love interest," or "damsel in distress," (though she might also be any or all of those things as well) but the heroine. Koontz writes strong, capable, professional female leads, who often end up saving the day themselves, or playing a vital role in the hero's saving of the day. The heroine should be attractive, though she does not need to be movie-start gorgeous, and in most cases is not.
  3. Introduce the Villain. Even if the "bad guy" is really a "bad corporation" or "bad shady government entity" or "bad troop of rhesus monkeys," there has to be a face by which we can associate the bad people. The bad guy is as morally corrupt and dark as the hero is good and wholesome. There should be no ambiguity or question in the readers' minds that this dude is a bad, bad man. For some interesting flavor, try any of the following variations: bad guy has special powers or abilities; bad guy thinks he has special powers or abilities, but doesn't; bad guy thinks he has special powers or abilities, and it is never made clear whether or not he does; bad guy is hideous mutated freak. For added fun, try two separate, unrelated villains. The main villain might also be very well-connected, with access to a wealth of information and digital tracking ability, so that the protagonists must (eventually) stop using credit cards, lo-jacked vehicles, or their own phones. At the end of the book, kill the villain.
  4. Introduce the Dog. Everyone likes dogs. Koontz is enamored with dogs. I can't say that I disagree, but dogs play more vital roles in his books than some people do in the works of other authors. If you want to write your own Dean Koontz Thriller, use a Golden or Labrador Retriever. It should always be intelligent, but may be of above average or super-human intelligence. The dog may even have entire chapters of its own narration. At the very least, it should make an appearance, and save an important character with good-doggie instincts.
  5. Introduce the Friends. The protagonists don't always save the day on their own; they often rely on a small but fierce network of friends, often connected in law enforcement, computers, or science, but might just be very clever surfing buddies. Naturally, these friends may be endangered in the course of the book, but generally come out of it intact.
  6. Set the story in California. This is non-negotiable. You want to have them travel to Vegas, or move around in California, or maybe close the book in some other state or country, fine--but the bulk of the story is in California.
  7. Additional Vital Koontz Elements. Describe buildings, interiors, faces, and flora in rich, bizarre detail. Use strange, quirky imagery to do it. Don't be afraid to suggest a massive conspiracy, but if you do, try to wrap it up hurriedly in the last couple chapters. The main cast of characters should be very clever, sharp people. Even most incidental characters should be strong, smart survivor-types. The occasional idiot may be introduced, but these characters are never as simple as they seem, and often know something vital. Use some Asian flavor--maybe just a character or an old Chinese proverb, maybe extensive use of Asian food, art, and architecture. At least one character should have abuse or some great trauma in their past. If they haven't overcome it by the time the story starts, then they should come to terms with during the story, while being hunted crazy people/ hitmen/ mutants/ all of the above.
  8. Conclusion. Good guys live. Bad guys die. Often horribly.
Sure, there's a pattern here, but it's a winning pattern. I liked the book, I liked the whole premise (Wikipedia wraps that up without spoiling much), and this formula will in no way prevent me from eventually seeking out the Odd series. Because even though Koontz may be a little formulaic, he's very good at what he does, and I like it.

* That's right. I said it.

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posted by reyn at 7:35 AM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant! Can I copy/paste this on

5/21/2008 7:50 PM  
Blogger reyn said...

Absolutely! But be sure to add a link back to our main page!

6/04/2008 9:30 AM  

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