Aug 24, 2007

Novelist writes case study for Harvard Business Review

Corporate thriller writer Joseph Finder sets the scene, about a brand new CEO who suspects that her predecessor and his cronies were involved in corruption.

It's a fun idea, especially since--for the first time--anyone can submit a solution to the problem.

But it's writers like Joseph Flinder, who give genre fiction a bad name. For one thing, Finder doesn't get to the point until paragraph 27. Instead he sets the stage with a lot of inept description. Note to thriller writers: Unless your name is Tom Wolfe, please don't waste our time with paragraph upon paragraph describing the glamorous world of big business. Particularly if said description consists of one cliché after another. To wit:
Go for it, kiddo, she told herself as she exhaled, then resolutely strode over the threshold and across the antique, jewel-toned Serapi rug. She remembered the moment, a couple of weeks ago, when the chairman of the board had solemnly ushered her in here. He’d stood in awestruck silence, presumably to impress her with the majesty and grandeur of the job they were courting her for.

She’d been impressed, all right. But also secretly appalled. It was obscene: easily four times the size of her office at Boeing, where she’d run the largest division. This wasn’t exactly her style. A peacock’s plumage might impress the peahens, she liked to say, but it was also a flashing neon all-you-can-eat sign for predators.

Floor-to-ceiling windows on two sides, with dazzling panoramic views of Wilshire Boulevard. A private terrace where you could entertain visiting dignitaries. Even a working fireplace with a slate hearth -- what was that all about?
Naturally, Cheryl's legendary, globe-trotting predecessor was "hard-charging." A tall secretary is "regal" and Cheryl has a "flinty exterior," while her chief rival sports "a shock" of white hair. It's a world where brows aren't merely furrowed, but "deeply furrowed."

I would also add that the problem we're asked to address, corruption within the company, is just sort of dropped into the story like an afterthought when Cheryl broaches the topic with her secretary in paragraph 27. It feels like an afterthought. What's this? Cheryl's heard some rumors that company salesmen were offering buyers "certain incentives" ? Does this have anything to do with panoramic vistas and vast black marble slabs of desks?

Via Sarah Weinman.

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