Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Reflections in a Double Bourbon

Write Like Fleming Series #1



I love James Bond.

And I especially love Bond, as written by Ian Fleming.

I know what you're thinking. What? Bond? Fleming? That's just pop spy-fiction fluff, no?

Well, yes. The Bond books are the ultimate male fantasy — all guns and megalomaniacs, loose women and sharp-tasting Vodkas. But they're also full of excellent writing. That's not a typo. Fleming is, for the most part, a great writer. I've read a lot of Bond books over the last year, some for the second or third time, and I absolutely love his writing.

This series will explore why, along with some of the stylistic tricks I've learned from the man who would be Bond.

First, bourbon. A double bourbon.

"Reflections in a Double Bourbon" is the first chapter in Fleming's "Goldfinger", and it's a great example of how Fleming nails Bond's voice. By voice, I mean Bond's:

  • thoughts
  • reflections
  • tone

Bond is cynical, he's a tired, cynical man.

He's drenched in melancholy and death. He mulls over almost everything in intense detail: his bourbon, his bruised hand, the terminal at Miami Airport, and of course, his last assignment, the nature of which has plunged him into his melancholy.

He's trying to console himself after killing someone.

But he also makes me laugh. Out loud. And cringe. And even pity him. Here we have a secret agent, license to kill, reflecting on death itself, and the act of killing.

Some choice passages:

What an extraordinary difference there was between a body full of person and a body that was empty! Now there is someone, now there is no one. This had been a Mexican with a name and an address, an employment card and perhaps a driving licence. Then something had gone out of him, out of the envelope of flesh and cheap clothes, and had left him an empty paper bag waiting for the dustcart. And the difference, the thing that had gone out of the stinking Mexican bandit, was greater than all Mexico.

If the Mexican was still alive, he was certainly dead before he hit the ground.

Bond had forgotten his drink. He picked it up and, tilting his head back, swallowed the bourbon to the last drop. The ice tinkled cheerfully against his teeth. That was it. That was an idea. He would spend the night in Miami and get drunk, stinking drunk so that he would have to be carried to bed by whatever tart he had picked up. He hadn't been drunk for years. It was high time. This extra night, thrown at him out of the blue, was a spare night, a gone night. He would put it to good purpose.

In this short chapter, simply through Bond's voice and his reflections on an assignment gone bad, we learn everything we need to know about him, how he thinks, what he likes, how he views the world. We smile, we shudder, we laugh at his train of thought. And we also want to read more.

You can read the full chapter here.

What do you do to inject more personality into your main character's voice?