Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Lessons from Sidney Sheldon

There's a lot one can learn from the late Sidney Sheldon.

Study his earlier works: Master of the Game, If Tomorrow Comes, The other side of Midnight. He keeps the pages turning with action, plot and compelling characters. And most importantly, he leaves a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter to keep the reader burning the midnight oil. And even though some of his scenarios are not so credible, they are still astounding with sheer vivacity and page-turning 'now why didn't I see that coming?' flow.

This man, after all, inspired Dan Brown to become a novelist!

But if you are a writer, there's one thing you should focus on if you're 'studying' Sheldon. The BACKSTORY.

Sheldon is the master of the backstory. Each of his characters have a compelling and utterly interesting backstory of how he or she got to be that way. Sheldon is the master of 'show' , not tell. He expands interesting parts, shrinks and fastforwards the rest and focuses on life defining events in each of his backstories.

Most of us have trouble writing the backstory. We end up with too much tell, not show. Not Sheldon. Take a leaf from him.


Tunku Halim said...

Sheldon's a dude! I loved "The Other Side of Midnight" - the movie!

On the aspect of Show, don't Tell. This is vital when describing Emotions. Other bits, can sometimes show!

John Ling said...


Funny though, how literary snobs would scoff at the mere mention of his name.

Xeus said...

TH, that's actually the main problem I have when receiving entries for DC2. Too much tell, not show.

John, literary snobs scoff at everything, even each other :) But when I ask everyone which movie they prefer to watch - Babel or Pirates of the Carribbean, they choose to watch the latter every time.

John Ling said...


Hence the term guilty pleasure. =)

Lydia Teh said...

I loved his books, particularly Windmills of God. There was a scene where he described the bereavement of the protagonist after her husband died, it was so real that I was quite touched. Later, I read that he was inspired to write from his own experience when his wife died.

Anonymous said...

Hi, people. It's hard for me to admire Sheldon's writing, but I admit I enjoyed watching 'The Other Side of Midnight' when I was a teenager and I can take a leaf from his storytelling techniques.

Hey, Xeus, I must say I preferred watching 'Babel' to 'Pirates' - the latter was just too action-oriented and vacuous. 'Babel' truly reflects the real situation in the world today - its connectedness, universal human folly, misinterpretations, media disinformation and politically motivated duplicities.


Xeus said...

Lydia, I actually liked his older ones better. After that, he became formulaic.

Argus, aha...Pirates 1 or 2? You are the first person I've met besides myself who likes Babel! Isn't Brad so much better here than in Troy?

Anonymous said...

"TH, that's actually the main problem I have when receiving entries for DC2. Too much tell, not show."

Ouch! I felt that, Xeus! :P


Xeus said...

Kok Yee, we are all guilty of it. Whether or not we are seasoned writers or just starting out. Me included :)

What we need to do is learn from it when it's pointed out to us. Because sometimes when we write, we don't see it ourselves.

Anonymous said...

Both Pirates, Xeus.
Well, Pitt didn't have to look blond, preen and show his silly ankles in 'Babel' - that helped a lot. He just had to look oldish and act exasperated, frustrated and helpless, besides helping the wife with a bedpan.
Having said that, I can't wait to see Chow Yun-Fat, one of my all-time fav Chinese actors, in the next Pirates. Is he gonna cuss in Cantonese?! "Hoi, hum kar chan! Don't eat up all my Jackie-kungfu chops, mate!"


Tunku Halim said...

"The Other Side of Midnight" movie had lovely, sexy, sex scenes. Borrow the uncensored version of you can. Watched it as a teenager too, so maybe the memories are better than the movie!

Anonymous said...


Not sure abt the cussing in cantonese part, but i heard there is a scene of Chow Yun Fatt twirling in the air with a parang in each hand, and chopping of enemy's heads in slow-mo.

Oh, dont forget there is a scene of Chow, Orlando and Johnny locked in a dagger-to-throat triangle.



Xeus said...

Argus, this means Brad should just take 'ugly' roles from now on!