What I Learned By Reading Novels By: Patricia Cornwell

Issue #7 * Blog #4-2015 * Read Time: 6 minutes * Section: Author Joseph Clay’s Writing Tips

Patricia Cornwell is an acclaimed Author and at the top of her game, some say the best in her genre. I have read two books by Patricia Cornwell. The first, Flesh and Blood, the second Cruel & Unusual, both are A Scarpetta Novel. Cruel & Unusual is book #4, Flesh and Blood #22 in the Scarpetta series.

Patricia Cornwell has writing books that are part of a series down to a work of art. She uses what I call Series Bait.

Series Bait: When writing a series as she has done successfully, I like the way she drops back story in from previous installments, to lure you to read those. That’s why I read Cruel & Unusual, after reading Flesh and Blood to find out more about Lucy. Along with the back story she uses what some call foreshadowing. Patricia Cornwell ‘s also uses her  sub-plots that move the story forward. The combination of these two increases the suspense of what may happen in the next installment.

The next thing I noticed was each book, although a part of series, stands alone. Cruel & Unusual and Flesh and Blood, can be read by themselves, the stories start fresh, and at no time did I feel the need to check out the earlier books to find out what was going on.

I do admit that the history between the main characters is a little sketchy. I’m assuming some of them have been together for several books if not the entire series. Once again it didn’t take away from this story, just makes you wonder, if maybe they saw this coming sometime ago.

Lesson Learned: When writing a series it is important that each book has a plot of it’s on and that plot has all the elements of a well written book. Use foreshadowing to build suspense to keep the series moving forward and drop small bits of back story (bringing up a characters past) to keep the series alive.

In both books the characters are strong all having a unique personality, some I liked, some I hated, while others I was hoping would get killed. That’s not a bad thing, if you want somebody dead in a book, the writer has done a heck of job with that character.

The dialog between each other was spectacular, the back and forth banter gave you the feeling these were real people, with issues of their own. These troubles sometimes spewed over, causing conflict between friends, while trying to band together to solve a baffling series of killings.

I also think Socks, a Greyhound, the family dog was a nice addition to the story, having a family pet makes the characters and story relatable.

The plot is both books was strong and most of all believable. They also had spectacular endings which I liked it, I’m sure some didn’t but in life that’s the way it happens on occasion.

Lesson Learned: Characters should be strong and believable with faults and its OK if they don’t always get alone. Put these characters in a well structured plot that is also believable with an ending no one saw coming and you have yourself a best seller.

Patricia Cornwell is a master at showing not telling and evoking the readers five senses. I love the way she describes sounds, you read the words but hear the action.

Lesson Learned: Figure out how to use the five senses, sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch to bring your story alive. Instead of saying someone is mad, show it through facial features and body language. Use sounds for things when possible. Paint the scenery with vivid descriptions.

From a writers stand point, especially new ones have a hard time understanding what should go into a prologue and epilogue. Patricia Cornwell’s epilogue, should be used in a writer’s class, it’s the best example I’ve ever seen.

Her epilogue is an extension of the story. She skillfully uses it to tie up any loose ends,  foreshadows what will be coming up next which closes the book out perfectly.

Lesson Learned: Use an epilogue to tie up loose ends and foreshadow what will be coming up in the book of the series.

Learning new techniques is not all you can pick up from other authors. Some times you learn not what to do.

One of the issues I had with Flesh and Blood was a rule that my professor screamed out, my editor has preached it, till it soaked into my thick skull. I understand now why they rode me hard when I went against there advice.

“Most readers don’t read whole words only bits, for this reason, you should stay away from giving characters names that start with the same letter.”

I had to adjust to the ‘M’ and slow down when I ran across it. Marino, who I take has been around a while, since at one time he was Kay’s Chief Forensic officer, and his friend Machado, who talked Marino into going back in to policing, I’m figuring in an earlier book.

At times it was confusing who was who, I would have to re-track to get it straight.

I guess if you have written twenty-two books with a central cast, names are hard to come by, or she has more led way with the editors than I do.

Lesson Learned: When breaking a rule try to foresee if it will became a problem in the future.

After reading only two books I can see a pattern. Maybe I picked the wrong two to compare.

  • Food is about to be cooked, has been cooked, or they go out to eat, but only on rare occasions do they consume it. This happens again and again, in both books, leave it out, and/or refer to not getting to eat in the story line.
  • The murders, in both stories, two-gun shots to the head. Tells me the same person is doing this. I may be wrong as I have not read the complete series only two books.
  • Another similarity, Kay’s attitude, no wonder she doesn’t have any friends and is married to her job.
  • Marino, although a good guy whines way too much.
  • Too much hooptedoodle, all the computer lingo about UNIX, readers could care less, if they wanted to learn about the operation system they would be reading UNIX for Dummies, not Cruel & Unusual.
  • Cruel & Unusual  used a prologue, a poem written by Waddell, can have easily been dropped it in to the story.

Patricia Cornwell has a unique writing style, which I like, that flows and makes reading her plot enjoyable, which gets me through the hooptedoodle.

However liking Lucy and wanting to know more about her doesn’t counter balance me despising Kay and her righteous attitude or the whining of Marino, I will not read any more of the series because of it. To keep the Scarpetta novels going, somewhere along the line somebody needs to bring Kay down a notch.

Lesson Learned: No matter how good your writing, the plot and/or characters are, to many annoying traits along with hooptedoodle will turn some readers off. But if you have sold millions of books losing one or two readers doesn’t bother you.

Want to read my reviews of Patricia Cornwell’s books. Here are the links:

Other blogs in this category:

I hope you picked up a few pointers from my blog on what I learned from Patricia Cornwell

NOTE: What I Learned By Reading Novels By: Patricia Cornwell was original written and posted on February 13, 2015 to Author Joseph Clay’s Official Blog. The blog was transferred to this site on September 13, 2020.

Blogger: Joseph Clay

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