3 Things I Learned from Tom Clancy

Tom Clancy

Yesterday the world lost a prolific and well known writer.  Tom Clancy passed away at the age of 66, leaving behind a massive list of best selling novels, books that inspired movies and a host of video games.

But what did Clancy have to teach us?  I’m sure there will never be any Tom Clancy novels studied in any classrooms, but his writing was indeed fun to read, and he most certainly taught me a few things about writing novels:

  1. Indelible Characters – Clancy wrote into existence the likes of John Kelley, Jack Ryan, Captain Marko Aleksandrovich Ramius, and the men of Rainbow Six.  He understood thriller novels to the point of making it nearly a science, and could create believable characters that existed in the world of covert militaries and secret agencies.  However, these characters were not one dimensional, people with interesting and believable lives that showed us that even the most courageous of heroes have normal family lives, wives and children who may or may not know what goes on when “Dad is on the job”.  With these characters he teaches us that our epic heroes need a softer side, a family, something that ties them to the real world.  This makes them more interesting and more believable.
  2. Detailed Research – Clancy surrounded himself with people who knew the inner workings of the CIA, Naval officers and several others who would give him the most detailed information to fill his imaginary worlds.  When you read a Clancy book you feel like the man spent most of his time hanging out with spooks and heavy operators.  This gave a reality and an exotic feel to his books that has been mimicked by many other thriller and military intrigue writers everywhere.  Many of Clancy’s books echo in the pages of my own novel This Broken Earth in the character of Gideon the survivalist.  I took Clancy’s lead, interviewing a Navy SEAL, a retired U.S. Army Colonel, and others to get the realistic feel I needed.
  3. Cinematic Pacing – Clancy could make any novel feel like you were watching it on celluloid.  He did this so well that it became easy for film makers to turn his books into movies.  The plots were always intricate, surprising, and never dull.  Like an ’80’s action movie they took readers on a wild ride through the back alleys and dark hallways of the world of international intrigue.  What we learn from Clancy here is that we need to cut out all that does not drive the story along and therefore compete with the fast pacing of most television programs and motion pictures.  Most best sellers read like this nowadays, so if you can’t beat ’em…

What did you learn from Tom Clancy?  Post below with your thoughts.  If you haven’t read one of his books or find his technothrillers not to your liking, he is worth reading simply for the cinematic quality that he created within his prose.  Sound off!

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

2 thoughts on “3 Things I Learned from Tom Clancy

  1. Clancy is puzzling. His characters have no depth and his novels have no soul, yet I can’t stop reading one once I’ve started. I read through in a mad dash, getting jitters like a junkie when I have to put the book down for a few hours, then arrive panting at the end and wonder why I bothered. By the time I reach the end, I’ve forgotten how the book began, and within weeks remember nothing but the title.

  2. I’ve not read much of his work, admittedly, but I have enjoyed the films made from them. I think, however, the time has come to crack out one of the books and see for myself what’s going on there.

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