Skip to content

What I Learned About Writing This Week…from Dean Koontz, Redux

I love my job. Have I mentioned that? Well, let me mention it here and now: I love my job.

I get to write, I get to read what my Writers Tribe writes, and I get to read all sorts of books in all sorts of genres. It’s exactly the job for me, and I couldn’t ask for anything better.

So, with that as my preamble, I’ll share with you a few thoughts on my latest read: Relentless by Dean Koontz.

The Caveat

Relentless is the story of Cullen “Cubby” Greenwich, who has the temerity to write a novel of which the nation’s premier critic does not approve. The result is that the nation’s premier critic goes psycho and starts stalking, terrorizing, and eventually trying to kill Cubby and his family.

At this point, I should mention the caveat that floated through my head the whole time I was reading this novel, that caveat being this: The plot is very similar to that of Kontz’s Mr. Murder (i.e. man and family stalked by relentless sociopath), and it reads very much like his more recent Odd Thomas series (i.e. whimsical, sarcastic, witty, and intelligent).

The similarities to previous works bother me a little bit. But only a little bit — because it’s a great story, the protagonist is a writer (yay!), and the cast of characters is absolutely brilliant. I’m going to try to tell you about them without giving away too much of the story.

The Cast

First, there’s Cubby, whom I would rather call Cullen and whom his mother-in-law would rather call Hildebrand. And there we go with the fun whimsy of it all, that Koontz invented a mother-in-law who wants to call her daughter’s husband Hildebrand. But I digress. Cubby tells his story from first person POV, and every single sentence and phrase resonates with his unique voice.

“I-narrators” are becoming ever more popular, it seems. First person POV gives a story immediacy and, in some cases, helps the reader better connect with the characters. I say “in some cases” because this doesn’t apply to all readers or to all characters. If the writer hasn’t done the job, then the connection isn’t going to happen no matter what.

Koontz does his job. His I-narrator is humorous without being ridiculous, sarcastic without being cynical, and self-deprecating without belittling himself. By the end of the first page, I had a feel for who this person was. Even though I knew there would be more character development as I went along, I also knew I would recognize Cubby’s distinct voice throughout the story — and see it immediately if he spoke out-of-character. (He didn’t.)

I could go on for multiple posts about Cubby and the rest of the cast. But I won’t, dear inklings — no need for worry on your part. ; ) So here’s a brief run-down on some of the others:

Penny (formerly Brunhild) Boom is Cubby’s wife. She’s a writer, too, and it’s fantastic to watch her go momma-bear on the crazed book critic who dares come after her family.

Milo is the genius six-year-old son who’s probably going to save the world someday. In the meantime, he wears T-shirts emblazoned with one word each (such as “persist” or “courage”) and is tinkering with something that just might save his family. (“No games at the table.” “I’m not playing games, Dad.” “What else can you do with a Game Boy?” “Something.”)

Grimbald and Clotilda Boom are Penny’s demolition-expert, survivalist parents who picked their own first names. They are very tall people. I hope they really exist in a valley somewhere in California, because if there’s an apocalypse, I’m going to go live with them.

The babysitter, Vivian Norby, is fierce and fat and pink.

I won’t tell you about Shearman Waxx, the crazed book critic, because he is an enema. I mean, an enigma. Milo looks him up on the Internet, and some online encyclopedia writer either has a vocabulary problem or a wicked sense of humor.

The Conclusion

So. A plot that’s not only been done, it’s been done by this author at least once before. A story tone reminiscent of previous works by the same author. Problem, or not?

For me, my dear readers, it’s most definitely not. Relentless is a rollicking romp of a thriller, and less than halfway through, it mattered to me not one whit that Koontz was using devices I’ve seen him use before. I was having too much fun with this vivid cast of characters to care.

It just goes to show that there is a finite number of possible plots in the world.

But if you plug distinct, colorful, fun characters into it, the possibilities for grabbing your readers’ attention are infinite.

And that’s WILAWriTWe!

4 Responses to “What I Learned About Writing This Week…from Dean Koontz, Redux”

  1. Josh Unruh says:

    I come from a background of heavy genre fiction, comics, and pulps. Doing something that’s been done before but in a new, exciting, interesting, or clever way is pretty much the bread and butter of all these. If you’re very lucky and get somebody very talented, you get old things synthesized in a new way and that can be truly breathtaking. But that’s it for new.

    So I agree, not a problem. It all comes back to my motto of “forget doing something original, just do something good.”

    • Josh, I love that motto. I think most of us forget that it’s simply not possible to write anything original anymore — because if the Mesopotamians didn’t cover it, the Greeks and the Anglo-Saxons certainly did.

      Writing something old in a new, exciting way is the bread and butter of every genre, in my opinion. It’s just that too many genres refuse to admit it. 😉

  2. Dave Doolin says:

    There’s really only two plots, right? 1. Boy meets girl, and 2. girl meets boy?


    I’m not familiar with Koontz, but I know how good writers can take the same old same old plot devices and breathe new life into cliches, over and over again.

    Mastery of the basics critical for success, right? Like, invoicing for success in business, if you want to get paid. Speaking of which… I better get back to work.

    • Dave, I should have clarified: There are only 36 different dramatic situations. As far as plots are concerned, you’re absolutely right about (1)boy-girl and (2)girl-boy. 😀

      If you ever want to become familiar with Koontz, I recommend Watchers and From the Corner of His Eye.

      And yes, if we master the basics, we can get away with doing pretty much whatever we want — and we’ll get paid for it!