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Yes, I Read The Lost Symbol

September 24, 2009

Yes, I recently read the popular fiction novel follow-up to The Da Vinci Code. I’ll be honest–although the writing in TDVD was less than stellar, it showed me how to structure an intelligent thriller. For the most part, The Lost Symbol follows in the same footsteps.

A recent blogger (sorry, I can’t remember who) noted that Brown’s skill is incorporated a turn in every chapter. It’s one thing to have every chapter end in a cliffhanger or a tease, but it’s another to make sure there’s something in every chapter that sheds new light on something that the reader had a different take on before reading that chapter. That’s the turn.

After I read The Da Vinci Code, I started researching my novel Truth Against the World. It has nothing to do with the Holy Grail or anything even remotely close to TDVC–it was the structure that inspired me to write my novel. All of those turns. My goal was to have all of those turns in an intelligent thriller with characters that you care about. Because, in truth, you don’t care for a second about any character in Brown’s books. You simply don’t. Key characters, even Langdon himself, could be killed off at any time, and all you care about is flipping the page to see what happens next.

In the end, partly because of that, The Lost Symbol fell short for me. That’s not to say it’s not interesting and suspenseful, but especially with the bad guy, his motivations just don’t make sense at all. None of these characters are real people.

It’s worth reading for all those turns. And it points out some fascinating (and true) elements of DC architecture, plus some interesting details about noetic science. But all the characters are there for are to progress the plot and, more often than not, tell Langdon what’s up so the plot can move forward. This is necessary at times, but it takes away from the sense of discovery, and Langdon’s general disbelief becomes…well, unbelieveable.

Here’s a standard scene from The Lost Symbol to illustrate my point:

(Langdon has just met the old man who another old man told him he had to meet immediately. He’s arrived with just enough time for the man to say a few things to him, and then the police, the CIA, and a crazy dude with massively massive musculuar muscles are going to arrive.)

Old Man: I’m glad you made it just in time. I’ve never met you, but I’m going to tell you some deep, dark secrets right away.

Langdon (adjusting his tweed jacket): I don’t believe in secrets.

Old Man: If you read the Bible backwards and upside down, you’ll learn that Jesus put the dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark and sailed with them to Atlantis.

Langdon: Impossible!

Old Man: It’s true. If you don’t believe me, look inside that treasure box you’ve been carrying around.

Langdon: It’s just an ordinary box.

Old Man (eyes twinkling): Sometimes you have to see to believe. Open the box.

Langdon: I can’t! The lock is a cipher! I’ll never open it!

Old Man: Decipher it.

Langdon: Okay, I deciphered it.

Man: Inside you’ll find proof that Jesus rode a trinosaurus into the Ark.

(Langdon starts to open it)

OldMan: No, don’t open it! You’ll reveal too much information for this chapter!

(crazy dude with massively massive musculuar muscles breaks through the window)

Crazy Dude: I’m going to take that box to do something really crazy!

Old Man: Quick, Langdon! You need to find the old man down by the river! Only he can help you!

(Langdon grabs the treasure box and the woman, who was in the room the whole time but had nothing to do except be a symbol of feminine power.)

And…scene.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. John Aughey permalink
    September 25, 2009 6:23 am

    You convinced me to Kindle the book. I can’t resist a good plot warped up in a ridiculously predictable structure.

  2. Bob permalink
    September 25, 2009 11:47 pm

    In a van down by the river?

  3. Red permalink
    September 28, 2009 8:49 am

    You sure that wasn’t the Celestine Prophesy you were reading?

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