The Three-Plane-Day Test for a Good Suspense Novel
Air travel is different if you live far out in the country.
Once in a while those of us in West Texas travel from one of our small airports to somebody else’s small airport far away. We almost never fly there directly. Instead, we take a little commuter plane to a hub airport in a big city. From there we take a big plane to another hub airport. Finally – you guessed it – we board another commuter plane to reach our destinations.
In West Texas, three-plane travel days are common. One old joke out here is that, if you die in Amarillo, you must go to Heaven by way of Dallas.
Three-plane travel days mean plenty of waiting in airports. You need at least ninety minutes between flights to absorb delays from, say, fog in Houston, snow in Denver, or thunderstorms almost anyplace. You have to wait for your baggage in your destination’s little airport, where only one or two workers on the late shift might slowly unload an entire plane. There is also all the time spent sitting on airplanes.
Therefore, a good novel means a lot to a three-plane traveler. Find that novel, and you can escape from sitting around and standing around. You might even forget you’re in a middle seat. Three-plane air travelers tend to seek out good novels.
I write for the three-plane travelers. Firstly, that means all the pieces of a story have to work exceptionally well. Voice, characters, plot, pacing, and so forth must quickly welcome readers into the story’s fascinating little world. Otherwise readers get to thinking about the leg room they don’t have.
Secondly, the story should be told in short sections rather than in long chapters. Little sections accommodate air travel’s many interruptions: checking luggage, boarding, meals aloft, PA system announcements, deplaning, treks between airport gates, and so forth.
Thirdly – and this is the big one – the occasional announcement of a flight delay should come as good news. It would mean more time to read.
Notice that a novel well-suited for three-plane travel days ought to work equally well for warm days at the beach or for cold nights by the fire.
All this suggests one way to find a good novel: Consider those paperbacks clutched by commuter airline passengers. I hope you increasingly see my books among those they carry with them.