Writing a Lee Child Novel in 8 Foolproof Steps

Lee Child is one of the best thriller writers, period, and one of my favorite authors.

After 18 novels, even Child isn't immune from repeating himself a smidge. It's like a Bond movie: there are going to be gadgets, girls, tuxedos, and sharks, because such things are required by law.

Here's a handy recipe for writing any Reacher novel.


Step 1: Reacher is all by his lonesome

Our hero is a giant with the brains of Sherlock Holmes in the body of Conan the Barbarian, and he's innocently wandering:

(a)    through cotton fields in the Deep South.

(b)    alongside a highway in the Midwest while a snowstorm rages.

(c)    in the urban jungle of Manhattan on his world coffee-drinking tour.


Step 2: Somehow, someway, trouble finds Reacher

While he's drinking coffee (black, always black!), evil events finds Reacher in the form of:

(a)    bad guys kidnapping him along with a beautiful woman.

(b)    corrupt cops arresting him for a murder he didn't commit.

(c)    bad guys offering him a job which he declines, then takes just to get closer to the bad guys.

(d)    his old Army buddies are in trouble, or dying, and sending him secret messages via deposits to his bank account since he doesn't have a phone or address.


Step 3: Despite being unattached to any person, place or cause, Reacher gets all curious and involved

Though he chooses to have no house, no wife, no job and no attachments, Reacher gets all attached to people he doesn't know and dives deeper and deeper into the world of the bad guys, who are:

(a)    rich criminal masterminds controlling a small town.

(b)    foreign terrorists led by a beautiful women with a thing for knives.

(c)    serial killers who are secretly cops or Army officers.


Step 4: A pretty girl with a gun and a badge

There is always a Girl, who typically has a small waist, a Big Gun, and a Shiny Badge. Why?

(a)    she's the only member of the local police force who Reacher can trust.

(b)    she's the beautiful girl who Reacher got kidnapped with as he was innocently hitchhiking across America with only his folding toothbrush for company.

(c)    she's locked in the cell next door to him, until he busts them both out and they join forces to sleep in trashy motels as they track down the bad guys.

(d)    as the femme fatale, she must follow the 007 Rule and die after sleeping with Reacher.


Step 5: Let the games begin

Reacher gets warmed up dealing with minor thugs and such, who are:

(a)    redneck idiots in a local coffee joint or tavern, who insult Reacher's hair, clothes, Girl with a Gun, or folding toothbrush.

(b)    the local corrupt cops.

(c)    soldiers gone bad, ex-soldiers gone bad, or militia crazypants with a hankering for Army surplus camo.

(d)    prison inmates in the next cell who got paid two packs of cigarettes to shiv him.


Step 6: Drive it like you stole it

Tired of hitchhiking, and having no monies, Reacher steals a car, a wallet or two and some guns from the minor thugs by:

(a)    head-butting their leader, thus scaring the other bad guys into running and such.

(b)    head-butting their leader, then punching the other bad guys, and twisting their knees in directions god never intended.

(c)    head-butting the entire population of the tavern / prison / town (sorry, this is also required, unless he chooses option d).

(d)    borrows a car from the Girl with a Gun.

Also: once Reacher obtains a vehicle, he always does a K-turn, because U-turns are for nancypants.


Step 7: One man versus an evil army

Though he has a few new friends hanging back in support, Reacher ventures to the lair of the bad guy and takes on every armed thug in the place using only his iron forehead, his fists, and:

(a)    the stolen car as a way of busting down the front door.

(b)    the memory of the dead Girl with a Gun as rage fuel.

(c)    empty water bottles and a red plastic jug of gasoline.

(d)    his folding toothbrush.


Step 8: Later, gators

Despite risking his life, freedom, and folding toothbrush for a bunch of people who are now dead—or he'll never see again—Reacher abandons them to hitchhike off into the sunset because:

(a)    having a girlfriend means settling down and having a job, a house, and a washing machine, and he would rather stick needles in his eyes.

(b)    after a few days of bliss, Reacher and the surviving girl come to the decision that it just wouldn't work out.

(c)    Reacher has to hop on the first Greyhound out of town before the cops ask him all kinds of questions about all kinds of dead bodies who got their skulls caved in.

(d)    while drinking coffee in a diner, he was immediately approached by another beautiful woman with a Big Gun and a Shiny Badge, and they both get kidnapped and put in the back of a U-Haul.


Image Folding Toothbrush: Metaphys Brillo model.

Guy Bergstrom is a speechwriter and reformed journalist. His thriller (Freedom, Alaska) won an award at PNWA 2013, and he's represented by literary agent Jill Marr. He can be found on Twitter @speechwriterguy or at his blog, redpenofdoom.com


  1. Patrick Niese

    yeah, that pretty much sums it up. I always sum up the plots to my friends as ” jack reacher wanders into town and into trouble”

  2. Helen Ginger

    Lord, that was so funny!
    My husband reads every Jack Reacher book that comes out.

  3. Ellen Kirschman

    I read one Jack Reacher book and vowed never to read another. IMHO, a man who doesn’t do laundry after being on the road for days doesn’t smell well or read well.

  4. Kathy McIntosh

    What a hoot!
    Your comments are too, too true, and yet I love his books.
    Just finished one and your head-butting comments tickled me.

  5. Tutuapp

    In the end, it pays off in terms of personal well-being, good health, and confidence that your place in this world is a good and important one!

  6. Showbox

    Taking better care of yourself takes a while and doesn’t happen overnight.

Comments are closed.

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