What Jack Reacher Taught Me about Writing


My name is Elle—serious novelist and book snob—and I read Jack Reacher thrillers.

After finishing the latest (22nd!) Jack Reacher book, I wrote my own.

Well, not exactly. Let’s leave that business to the master, Lee Child, who created the iconic Jack Reacher character.

What I’ve written would be considered a parody of Jack Reacher thrillers.

It’s technically a novella (20,000 words), although that sounds too sophisticated for what it actually is.

I’ve created a character who is consistently mistaken for Jack Reacher. Lt. Col. Jake-none-Treacher shares many similar characteristics as Reacher, such as his exceptional height and social inelegance. He also consistently happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and thus tangled up in some crime, conflict, or conspiracy.

Think Monty Python’s Life of Brian or Dudley Moore in Wholly Moses!

Introducing Jake Treacher

Here’s the back cover blurb for Threshing Floor: A Thriller Parody:

Threshing FloorWhy are law enforcement, government agencies, and military officials always looking for Jake Treacher? The highly decorated ex-military traffic cop just wants to hide out in his dodgy motel room in rural Pennsylvania and tend to his wounds after a bar fight—er, barn fight, rather. Maybe later he’ll find out why the town he’s in is called Intercourse.

But something is going down in Amish Country. A gruesome murder on the threshing floor, as well as suspicious packages from the Arabian peninsula, have got ATF and FBI agents looking into the secretive Amish community in Lancaster County. The elusive Reacher—er, Treacher—is located and enlisted to help close the investigation.

Perhaps then they’ll finally get his name right.

You can find this piece of absurdity as an ebook on Amazon for $1.99.

I learnt some things writing my Treacher book, and I’m here to share these things with you, my fellow book snobs. Try not to turn up your nose. You might learn something too.

What I Learned Writing a Jack Reacher Story

1.  Simplicity Is Best

A Jack Reacher novel is a fun read because it’s easy to read. If you don’t overthink the fight scenes, that is.

We get a precise description of the setting: Texas ranch, small Southern town, middle of nowhere, et cetera. All the expected elements and imagery for those settings are present, but not overstated.

The conflict is typically set up in the first pages. Check.

The characters are either good guys or bad guys. And the bad guys are REALLY bad. Got it. Good. But the characters are multidimensional (the good guys anyway) and memorable. (Sometimes the vehicles are like characters in a Reacher book. Take note.)

The dialogue is easy to read. Perhaps it’s more believable dialogue because it’s easy to read. It’s fragmented, it’s raw, it’s witty. Like small talk.

You’ll find no flowery prose in these books. With straightforward narration and description, the plot and action stand out, which makes for a more approachable book.

2. Repetition Is Good

How many times have we Reacher fans read, “Reacher said nothing”? Couldn’t that line be left out? If he said nothing, then why not just say nothing? Does it really need to be said again and again that he said nothing?

Yes, actually, it does. Because this is Reacher choosing to say nothing. He doesn’t have to say anything, either because it’s pointless or because, by saying nothing, he’s making a point. It’s who he is.

And it’s freaking brilliant.

We find certain character traits or phrases like this repeated throughout the novels. The repetition makes them stick—Oh, yes, that’s a Reacher Rule: “When in doubt, turn left.” Knowing what to expect makes us feel comfortable that we are, indeed, in a Jack Reacher thriller.

Don’t worry, there’s plenty of suspense amid the repetition to keep it interesting.

3. Emotion Is Not Always Necessary

What impresses me about Jack Reacher is his lack of emotion in dangerous or distressing situations. I’m not sure how realistic that is, and yet it’s kind of refreshing, not having to read how Reacher feels about the events taking place. I get the feeling that Reacher would be uncomfortable with us knowing how he feels. If he feels….

He doesn’t chuckle, or weep, or even smile. Sometimes Reacher says nothing.

But despite this, we still know he cares. He fights for the weak and abused. He seeks justice. When a criminal needs to pay for his crimes, Reacher doesn’t mind making him pay. If he didn’t care, he wouldn’t bother, would he?

Maybe feelings are not all they’re cracked up to be. I mean, I still feel plenty during a Jack Reacher novel binge. What I feel is suspense. Curiosity. I want to know how Jack sorts it all out. That’s what keeps me turning pages.

Can you tell I’m fond of Jack Reacher? I hope so. As much as I didn’t want to like these books, I love the character. And I think you have to love something to parody it.

So if you’re a Reacher fan and want to read my silly homage to the Major, check out Threshing Floor: A Thriller Parody, now available on Kindle.

Threshing Floor