Great Storytelling … And On Cheap Newsprint

ModestyAdventure strips once were a staple of newspapers. Now they’re mostly relics.

Which is a shame. First, because I’m a huge fan of many great adventure strips. But second, because the best writers of the bunch knew how to move a story forward with an economy of words.

I try to tell people this when I teach mystery writing: Keep your story moving forward. Anything that doesn’t: jettison.

Here’s as single strip from the great “Modesty Blaise,” circa 1970, which appeared in The Evening Standard. The writer is Englishman Peter O’Donnell (the all-time best, I think) and the art is by Spaniard Ernique Badia Romero.

Here, the heroes, Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin, are trapped underground in a terrorist base and are trying to get to the surface. They’ve decoyed most of the enemy the wrong direction.

Peter O’Donnell, one of my personal heroes, only has about 50 words to move his plot forward. Romero only has three images. Yet move forward, it does.

Willie informs Modesty that the decoy ruse worked … too well. The armed guards at the elevator shaft moved, too.

Modesty explains why that’s “bad” news – she wanted to take out those guards and eliminate their guns before a drawn-out firefight We learn here that Modesty wanted the armed confrontation. Not because she’s suicidal or overly violent, but because dealing with those guns now means not having to wonder about them later.

In the third panel, Willie calmly informs her that the elevator, or lift, isn’t responding. Which means the decoy isn’t working any longer. Does he sound or look anxious? Nope. That was expected.

And Modesty’s response is: “Well, there are always snags.” No blame, no anger, no regrets. They played their hand. It went well enough. Their minds have moved on to the next threat.

Again: 50 words, 3 images, and Messrs. O’Donnell and Romero provide both plot development and character analysis. And you’ll note that I didn’t pick an action sequence, either. Because reaction is as telling as action, in the hands of a great storyteller.

The takeaways?: First, with few exceptions, everything in your story needs to move your plot forward, or provide character development. And second, you don’t need a ton of words and pages of expository writing to accomplish that.


About danahaynes

Dana Haynes is the author of ICE COLD KILL (2013), BREAKING POINT (2011) and CRASHERS (2010) from Minotaur and St. Martin's Press.

Posted on August 31, 2013, in Blog and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.


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