on September 16, 2009
Three years ago, Dan Brown and top executives in Hollywood and the publishing world assembled Thomas Harris, Dean Koontz, Michael Crichton, Paulo Coelho, Jimmy Wales, Abir Taha, and Rhonda Byrne in one room and said:
"Hello and welcome, ladies and gentlemen. Tonight you are being tasked with creating a novel of epic proportions - one that will keep multitudes of airline travelers mildly entertained for a few hours while simultaneously insulting the intelligence of anyone who possesses anything higher than a Bachelor's Degree in Communications. Gripping intrigue; explosive revelations; multi-dimensional, original and sympathetic characters; realistic, cutting-edge technology; finely crafted and astonishing plot twists; meticulously researched detail - this book will have none of these! Instead, randomly tear some pages out of your own manuscripts, staple them together and have the product on my desk by Tuesday night; we need at least a week to whittle down your blathering drivel into a 120 minute screenplay."
"I'll be on the phone with Hanks' agent negotiating a deal where we send him a blank check, and he reciprocates his end of the contract by laconically intoning his dialogue while stumbling about in a tweed jacket, so just slide whatever you come up with under my door. Remember, it's got to be at least 450 pages - if it doesn't snap the strap of a Timbuk2 messenger bag, it's not literature!"
"Someone needs to throw in at least three dozen references to "things people do on the internet" too, please. You know, just try to work in the words 'iPhone,' 'Twitter,' BlackBerry,' and 'Google' every ten pages, that way readers will know it's a taut techno-thriller. And set it in Washington DC. Yeah, like National Treasure 2. People liked that, didn't they? Jimmy, have your boys just print out everything they have on the Freemasons, George Washington and Isaac Newton. Yeah, I know we used him before; we honestly don't know any other scientists. What do you mean your editors don't actually fact-check their information? So it's all just a hodgepodge of hearsay and conjecture? Actually, that's perfect."
"So, yeah, we have to have a love interest, too. And by love interest I mean "woman with whom the protagonist has no chemistry whatsoever." I don't know, a beautiful, wealthy, impossibly intelligent woman who not only is involved in ground-breaking research in a scientific field that doesn't technically exist (but is going to change Everything Forever!) but also somehow gains the ability to make incredible leaps in logic minutes before our protagonist, thereby completely undermining the purpose of his entire character. Which reminds me - we're going to need a villain, too. Has there ever been a 6' tall, rich, muscular, bald, psychotic antagonist with giant tattoos who kidnaps his victims for the purposes of his own "transformation"? What's that, Tom, you don't think so? Good - run with that. Throw in a plot twist about him too. Something that's never been done before. And how about some minor characters as well - an impeccably dressed black man who has keys that open every single door in Washington, an old blind priest who speaks solely in riddles, and oh, what the hell, a deformed, female chain-smoking Japanese midget with a gravelly voice. Yup, all in the same book."
"Um, ok folks, I think we're done here - Oh, right, thanks Rhonda, I almost forgot - the ending! People have been waiting years for Dan's newest, colossal secret! One that will be sure to rock the very foundations of every society on our planet, destroy centuries-old beliefs and shatter ideologies into powdered glass! Here it is - get ready - The Bible. Reading the Bible will teach you things. Things that every single human being alive already knows, but they don't know they know. But once these things are pointed out, people are going to feel incredibly stupid that they didn't see them before. But they're also going feel uplifted because they now know that they're one with God. Or they're the same as God. Or they made up God. Or they're made of God. It doesn't matter. Just mention "God" and "hope" and people will get all choked up. Abir, you have some experience here - just make it sound spiritual, inspiring, and wishy-washy all at the same time."
"Can you also make sure to bury this Bible in some well-known, but highly implausible location that certainly won't be figured out in the first 20 pages by anyone more observant than a small, retarded child? I don't know, Dean, somewhere in Washington - but it's gotta have a pyramid on top. Yeah, a pyramid, like at the Louvre. Dan likes pyramids, ok? Are there any places like that in Washington? Anything vaguely pyramid-shaped? Just Google it, you'll find something. And make sure a shadowy government agency first tries to stop our protagonist, then ends up helping him using sophisticated technology that couldn't possibly do the things the book says it can do. Just make something up - like time traveling thermal cameras or something. Or how about that liquid breathing fluid stuff from The Abyss? That's got blockbuster written all over it. No, Michael, we're not actually going to mention The Abyss in the book - that would be utterly ridiculous.
"Koontz? You had another question? Yes, of course - I was just getting to that. Every single chapter should end in a mini-cliffhanger that doesn't actually advance the plot, but instead leaves the readers completely unsatisfied, forcing them to stay awake for another two hours in order to reveal some insignificant and unlikely plot point. Typically, each chapter should end with one character literally pointing out something to another character, but never telling the audience what it is they are pointing at until the reader has consumed at least 30 more pages. Needless to say, the thing they are pointing at should leave both characters either "shocked," "incredulous," or "amazed."
"Everyone knows what to do? Great. All right guys, let's get cracking. Paulo, if you could stay behind for a minute; we found 87 more languages to translate your repetitive, mindless pedantry into. The rest of you, thanks for coming, please pick up your cartons of money on the way out..."
Done. Congratulations; you've just read The Lost Symbol. I just saved you $17.00 and six hours. No need to thank me. And if you're still interested in ciphers, riddles and secret messages, I've embedded my own within this review - a diabolical code that I spent as much time crafting as Brown did on this steaming pile of pulp.