What I learned from…The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

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Did you know there’s a Drafts folder in WordPress?  I didn’t.  Until this morning, when I opened up the Dashboard, wondering with light  interest what I would blog about today, when I sw it, and also notes from a post I was writing last November about impressions I had from The Girl on the Train.  Anyone who reads this regularly (and if you do, I suspect you’re a Russian bot selling Raybans) will know I suck at organisation, so me forgetting all about this isn’t unusual.  But what is is the reason I started that post to begin with was still in my mind.

Before we go on, spoiler alert for the post below.  If you haven’t read the book go do that first.  Go on, we’ll wait…

A train… presumably there’s a girl on it somewhere.

 

…welcome back!

Good wasn’t it?  What did you take from it?  For me it was am excellent use of shifting sympathies.  Hawkins made us pity than dislike Anna from one chapter to the next as each new piece of info was drip fed.  I’m constantly amazed at writers who manage to do that (George RR Martin manages that with more than a few of his characters, Jaimie Lannister  for EG).  It unhinges the reader.  Just when we think we know her something else happens and we know a little more.

Lesson one:  You don’t need to reveal everything in one go.

Secondly, not all character arcs need to be complete.  Thinking about Cathy’s (Anna’s landlady) boyfriend is one.  He performs some necessary services up front, has his own little backstory, then quietly disappears.

As writers we’re often rpeached at that characters all need their own arc.  Not true.  Is it necessary to find out that Cathy’s boyfriend was only with her so he could steal her father’s Subbuteo collection?  Newp.

Lesson two:  Get the minor’s characters established, get their job done, anything else is window dressing.

Finally – major character changes are never pretty.

Here I’m talking about Tom.  Goes from an entire book of being a despairing and caring ex to a murderous psychopath for five pages.  Hawkins does use it good effect, as the change was ot reveal a character flaw which he himself would have tried to hide, but she went overboard I feel.

But then again she sells more books than me every second, so I’m willing to concede that’s, like, my opinion man.

The Girl On the Train Who was Gone and then Taken (to give the genre its full title) was a lot of fun and great lesson on character twists though.

I wish I had a conclusion to this post, but hey, that’s my own twist for today.

Michael

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