Monday, June 7, 2010


Pick up a recent novel by Dean Koontz and you're likely to find one or all of these things: the plant bougainvillea, a character who likes to mix cinnamon into their coffee, poetry or mention of a poet, a Ford Explorer or Expedition, the word "undulating", and of course . . . a dog.

Name any prolific author you'd like, and they are bound to have a number of things that always seem to pop up in their novels. Diet Coke, bands from the eighties, the word "beat". They all have something.

I'm coining a phrase for these things: Meniques. They are unique phrases, things or places that these authors find interesting or important for whatever reason. Is something unique if you use it in all of your novels? It is if you are the only one who uses it. That's when it becomes a menique object.

Now there is a difference between a menique and a rut. Frequent use of the word "very" is a rut.

The very heavy man sat on the couch, feeling very exhausted and very ready for a foot rub; if only he had a very lovely wife to give him a foot rub, but he didn't, because he was very ugly and smelled of something very unpleasant: body odor.

That is a very bad sentence, even without the verys.

I've noticed that I have started to develop some meniques. Since I was married and have become a father (three times!), every book I've written features a main character who is or was married and has children. I have written a thriller in which the main character is on the run but must first grab some diapers and his son's Elmo doll. One of my characters laments the fact that his growing daughter has stopped calling him "Daddy" and now refers to him as "Dad".

If I weren't a married man with children, I don't imagine that I would be writing these kinds of characters. I wonder if this will change as I change. Will all of my characters start wearing brown courdery jackets, develop a sudden fetish for jogging three miles a day, suffer from migraines, eat two handfuls of spinach and a clove of garlic for lunch, count their gray hairs, and wonder how they are going to survive until their thirtieth birthday?

By the way, that's not an accurate description of me. I don't have any gray hairs.

I laugh when I come across meniques in books. Maybe you've never noticed them before. Start looking for them in novels from your favorite writers. They're all over the place. They are a little glimpse into the life of the person on the other side of the words.

Is it any surprise that Dean Koontz has bougainvillea plants in his yard, mixes cinnamon into his coffee, enjoys poetry, drives a Ford Explorer, likes to undulate, and of course . . . has a dog? I don't think so. I'd also wager a bet that Mike Dellosso likes Diet Coke, Travis Thrasher listens to bands from the eighties, and Ted Dekker is beat from writing six books a year.

The secrets are in the meniques.

I do not have gray hair.


Travis Thrasher said...

I love this term, meniques. I agree with you. All authors tend to do this. Yes, I love my music from the 80s (and 90s and 00s). I did an experiment to avoid all meniques with my latest, BROKEN. But then I came back with a vengeance with the follow-up to that coming out next year (title to be determined). The key is to use those meniques in useful ways and to not repeat yourself.

James Andrew Wilson said...

It takes a bold and observant writer to notice his meniques then kill them all. That's why we love you, Travis. We never know what to expect.