What I learned from Michael Connelly



I stared at the book in front of me. “Michael Connelly,” I thought. “You may think you have concealed your secret from your readers. It is time to reveal it for all the world to see.”

No, it’s not as easy as it looks, to write the first words of a best-selling novel. With that end in mind, I choose to study The Gods of Guilt. But I could have chosen any from a wide range of Connelly’s mega-successful Courtroom and Detective dramas.

Connelly’s formula

Connelly writes brilliantly to a successful formula. Broadly, his yarns set up a battle by the (mostly) ‘good’ against the (mostly) ‘bad’ folk. In the Gods of Guilt, his main character and mostly good guy is Mickey Haller, ACA The Lincoln Lawyer.

The formula for the courtroom drama is, of course a subset of the greatest human morality drama, the battle of right over wrong (Star wars, Paradise Lost, The Seven Samurai, King Lear, back to granddaddy Homer’s ripping yarns) The story was turned into a film, and has been reviewed extensively. The New York Times offers an excellent one, saving me from a lot of effort.


I want to comment on a few points which I have added to my folder on ideas for improving my writing. The formula is easier to identify than the imitate, as my puny effort above shows. That doesn’t stop would-be students and teachers of creative writers try.

The study notes of mine already drew on several step-by-step cookbooks offered on the Internet some of which I offer below following the advice of police procedural author Caroline Mitchell police procedural author Caroline Mitchell.


Tips for Writing Page Turners


The Gods of Guilt reminded me of the tips for writing page turners. Forget the damage caused to you by the invisible teacher watching over your shoulder.

Make the first sentence memorable, the first paragraph attention-grabbing, the first page getting somewhere in promising what’s to come.

Here’s how Connelly starts The Gods of Guilt.

“I approached the witness with a warm and welcoming smile. This of course belied my true intent …”

Then he continues setting up plot tensions.  The simple main line has Haller relating the roller-coaster plot from the first-page. Progress is met with setbacks. Assorted sub-plots occur but in a way that suggests all will come together for the better.

The key drama is played out in the Courtroom. He also has a running background theme. In this book it is his struggle with his estranged daughter. This is a hook to offer comforting continuity. Look out for them in TV dramas.

An antidote to the superhero

He remains the hero who hasn’t sold out. An antidote to the superhero. His victories have been interspersed with  setbacks depriving him of material wherewithal. This has resulted in the brilliant memorable idea of operating his legal business from the back of an automobile, the famous black Lincoln)

On conspiracy theories

One last thought. Connelly and maybe much of fiction reinforcing conspiracy theories. Behind the injustices of the world there are evil forces at work. For detective thrillers these are corrupt cops, judges, politicians, business tycoons, lawyers. The system is out to get you. One a few people, the special ones, have the courage and capabilities to lead the revolution against the system.

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