Thursday, September 04, 2008

Brockmann's narrative construction

I'm reading my way through Suzanne Brockmann's Troubleshooter series again. This is actually the first time that I've read them book after book after book (up to thirteen now with Into the Fire released last month). And doing so is instructive. I've noticed two things in particular.

First, is particular to Breaking Point (TS#9). This book has always bothered me and I've only read it once before. It's very confusing at until about half way through, because rather than having clearly separate World War II stories, as she does in TS#1-6 and TS#8, the flashbacks in Breaking Point are all to much more contemporary memories of Max and Gina's relationship. But it's not just flashbacks to 18 months ago, it also flashes to 4 months ago, 22 months ago, seven months ago, 17 months ago, 19 months ago, seemingly randomly. All of which makes the book very confusing to start and difficult to figure out. But as the action gets further along, the flashbacks drift away so that the action all takes place in the present.

Brockmann writes so cleanly and so beautifully, and her plotting is so perfect, I've never been able to figure out why she had done this to Breaking Point. This time I got it. Max's problem is his struggle to control the chaos in his head. And while he is separated from Gina in the "Present Day," the book is chaotic in and with the flashbacks. But as Max and Gina get closer to their HEA, as Max's mind calms down and accepts his feelings for Gina, as he accepts the chaos in his head, the book calms down and sticks to one stream of reality. Masterful.

The second issue I noticed in the construction of most of the novels is why Brockmann should still be classified as romance, rather than as military suspense or military action. While Brockmann has been, in my opinion, a large part of the surge of male interest in novels classified as romance, there's still a fundamental difference between Brockmann's novels and the few military suspense I've read written by men.

I noticed the difference in Flashpoint in particular, in a scene in which Jimmy Nash tells Tess about an incident he had. Or rather, tries not to tell her, tries to hide the worst of what happened to him. The scene is told from his perspective, and we see both what he tells Tess and what he tries to hide from her as he thinks about whether or not to hide it. What we DON'T see is the scene as it happens. We don't see him being betrayed by his contact, being chased, "taking out" the people chasing him. We only see the scene in retrospect as he tells Tess about it. Why? Because, for Brockmann, the interest in the scene lies not in the fact that it happened, but in how Nash himself and Tess react to it having happened. The interest in the "action" scene lies in how the two protagonists relate to each other because of what the "action" means (Nash's guilt, Tess's frustration). For Brockmann, the "action" scene is about relationships, about reaction, about emotion, not about the pure adrenalin of the scene itself. And THAT'S why her books are still romances. And I think that's an important thing to understand.


  1. Ah! You've just turned on a light-bulb for me.

    Thank you.

  2. I like your observation about the reactions to the action scene being the important part. I was just dealing with this myself in the last week on my current project, so your articulation of it was particularly useful to me.

  3. JC and Victoria, thanks so much! I love knowing that my words have an effect somewhere--but then, don't we all. :)

  4. I love Breaking Point, but I never understood why it was written that way. Thanks so much for the insight. :-)