Michael Crichton’s Top 5 Writing Lessons

Think velociraptors on distant islands. Murderous gorillas guarding fields of diamonds. Dramatic doctors tending to trauma patients galore. Even if you never read him, you probably recognize the intense imagery he created over the last few decades—be it Jurassic Park, Congo or his television epic “ER”—and that’s a testament to Michael Crichton’s role as a master of intelligent, modern storytelling. 

In memory of the author, who died in late 2008 at the age of 66, we asked Karen Dionne—a writer David Morrell deemed “the new Michael Crichton” for her thriller debut Freezing Point—to share what she learned from her idol’s books. Here’s what she said:

1. CHALLENGE YOUR READER. Don’t be afraid to tackle complex topics such as quantum physics or manipulating the genetic code. Readers love learning something new. Stirring their curiosity is just as important as grabbing them from the first page.

2. SURPRISE YOUR READER. No one reading The Andromeda Strain could have guessed the ending. Novels should be novel. Unpredictability is key.

3. KEEP THE CLOCK TICKING. Timing, tension, momentum, pace—Crichton set the bar. A pounding heart keeps the reader reading.

4. GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT. Whether the details pertain to science, history or setting, readers expect your research to be accurate.

5. PLAY FAST AND LOOSE WITH THE FACTS. Story trumps all. Crichton’s gift was making the impossible believable. Everyone knows that dinosaurs can’t be cloned from fossilized DNA, but if they could …

This article appeared in the March/April issue of Writer’s Digest. Click here to order your copy in print. If you prefer a digital download of the issue, click here.

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