October 9, 2006

Codes, Concepts and Breakouts

We watched "The Da Vinci Code" a couple of days ago. I am not going to go much into the movie itself since everybody and their unborn child has probably seen it by now. Or heard about it. Or been urged by their neighbour’s grandmother to go see it. Or read about it in the newspaper. Or something. You get the picture :)

Now Laurie had already read the book. I hadn’t. So the movie was all new to me – especially since I hadn’t been interested enough in the book to learn what the story was about :p What did strike me while watching the movie was that the story was almost a poster-child for Donald Maass’ "Writing the Breakout Novel" :) Maybe I’m reading more into it (pun intended) than I should. But I’m reading "Writing the Breakout Novel" at the moment and Dan Brown appeared to follow Donald Maass’ advice very carefully. Perhaps it was coincidence, perhaps not. So the first thing I did was to check for any connections between Dan Brown and Donald Maass. Don’t think I found any direct connections or references to Brown being influenced by Maass’ book. So then, I looked up the publication dates for the two books and Maass’ book had been out for 2-3 years before Brown’s book was published. So I guess it certainly is possible.

Or maybe it’s just coincidence. Maybe bestsellers do follow a formula. I have no idea :) But what I did notice was that Brown raised the stakes continually as Maass advices in his books. You start with a simple murder, then Langdon gets called into take a look, then we learn that he’s a suspect in the murder, then he learns that there is a conspiracy behind it and he has to go on the run and so on. The stakes just keep rising and you are swept away in the tide of rising excitement.

Then there are the characters themselves. There’s Langdon’s claustrophobia, which is introduced almost as soon as the story starts. So you start sympathizing with him. Then you are introduced to Sophie and you learn that she does not believe in God. You start wondering about her. Then you learn that her whole family died when she was a child and you begin to realize perhaps she blames God for it. So you again sympathize with the character and are invested in their quest and what becomes of them.

There are many other points to ponder about how the story (in the movie) follows Maass’ advice closely. It probably is coincidence but then again, it’s a nice mini-not-quite-conspiracy theory of my own to say that Dan Brown wrote his bestseller by following Maass’ advice to the letter :p Or maybe, it just points to the fact that you can write by numbers as long as you know which numbers to follow :)

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