Dean Koontz 77 Shadow Street – Lessons for Writers

Dean Koontz’s books are not for everyone: they fit the horror genre, but they’re also categorized by some as ‘alternate reality’ or ‘fantasy’ or ‘magic realism’. Some people say they’re just plain weird; others love them.

I have liked some of Koontz’s books, and not been able to finish others. His 77 Shadow Street is one that I couldn’t finish. Yet I still found myself stopping sometimes just to admire the way he described characters.

The main problems in this book, for me, could probably be summed up as follows:

  1. Way too many characters. When there are so many scenes from so many different viewpoints, it’s really difficult to identify with any one character. I particularly liked his portrayal of the hitman Micky Dime: by tapping into Micky’s thoughts Koontz was able to show just how dysfunctional he was – Micky simply looked upon most other people as either clients or targets. If they got in his way, he eliminated them. However… because of the way the book was structured, I couldn’t be bothered finishing it to find out Micky’s fate.
  2. Related to the above: structure. What a nightmare. The book is essentially a series of vignettes: think of it as various characters’ stories recounted from start to finish, then broken up into a series of scenes. We jump from one character to another; one scene to another; one location (within the house) to another. It’s annoying, disorienting, and messes with the story;s flow and pacing.
  3. The repetitive horror elements. This got to be totally BORING. How many times – and from how many different character viewpoints – can you describe shadowy creatures, nasty grub-like creatures or blobs of vegetative matter releasing lethal spores into the air? Before I’d reached the halfway point I was skimming these sections (‘yeah, yeah, heard it all before) to find out where this was all going.

All of Koontz’s characters had potential for the reader to care about them (or at least to be interested in what became of them, for the less savoury ones) but it was all too much.

I didn’t finish the book. I was left feeling dissatisfied – I have finished other Koontz novels and really enjoyed them, because he does such a good job of creating interesting, well-drawn characters.

Oh well. I’ll still try the next book… and I hope he’s back in form.

The takeaway lesson for writers:

When readers grow interested in a character, they ‘become’ that character. They essentially walk around in that person’s skin; they feel what the character is feeling. If they author introduces a large cast of characters, and keeps diving into the heads of all of them one at a time, the reader feels put out. Often, they skim the book looking for further scenes featuring the character with whom they’ve started to identify. Once they do that… it’s only a short step to abandoning the book.So…

  • DON’T have a big cast of characters and then write scenes from the viewpoint of all of them.

Cheers

Marg


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