What can Jack Carr teach us about writing?
Despite following in the footsteps of Lee Child, there is still much to learn from the meteoric rise in popularity of former Navy Seal turned author Jack Carr. Carr is a relative newcomer to writing, with only about five books to his name so far, but he’s been a chart topper since his debut, and his first book has already been turned into a streaming series on Prime.
That’s why it makes sense for Ginger to examine what it is that has led to Carr’s quick success and what it can teach us that can be applied to our own writing, in this latest installment of his informal writing lessons series.
Right now, there are two deadly badasses on my Amazon Prime menu screen – Jack Reacher and James Reece.
The former is played by Alan Ritchson, who takes the role of the eponymous star of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series – which spans 25 books and has sold over 100 million copies worldwide since the first installment hit the bookshelves in 1997.
The latter, however, is less familiar to many of us. It’s actor Chris Pratt playing the character of James Reece – the invention of former Navy SEAL turned novelist Jack Carr.
It’s somewhat jarring to see the two of them both headlining major TV shows since Carr’s first novel, The Terminal List, was only published in 2018 – 21 years after Reacher’s first adventure The Killing Floor. Yet Reece has almost reached the same notoriety as the infamous Reacher; and not without good reason.
But how did Jack Carr come nipping at the heels of Lee Child in such a short space of time? It’s an astonishing feat – although perhaps no more astonishing than the man himself. As a Navy SEAL Jack Carr is no stranger to taking extreme action to extreme conclusions, and the incredible pace of his career as an author shows that he’s just as effective with a keyboard as he is with an M4 assault rifle.
So, what is it that’s made the James Reece series so insanely popular so fast? And what can we learn from Jack Carr’s books and apply to our own writing?
Perhaps the first and most important thing that separates Jack Carr from Lee Child is authenticity. He writes about a badass military hero just like Jack Reacher, but Carr has something British-born author Lee Child doesn’t – a storied career as a Navy SEAL, one of the most respected and capable warriors on Earth.
His experience on the battlefield and the uncompromising view of the world he developed as a result comes across in spades in everything Jack Carr writes. He describes scenes of combat and war with terse, yet visceral detais. It’s all incredibly compelling and makes for exciting, page-turning prose.
But more than that, Jack Carr’s real-life military background makes it so much easier for fans of the genre to ‘buy into’ what he’s selling. Don’t get me wrong, Lee Child’s books are great – but if you want to read about real military action, it’s difficult to argue that you won’t get a more authentic viewpoint from an author who spent over 20 years in Naval Special Warfare and saw action in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sometimes the toughest thing to do as a new author is convince people to take a chance on you – but because of his military career, Jack Carr found it easier than most. The fact that he’s a real-life action hero makes it much easier to believe in the exploits of his fictional conterpart.
Appeal to Your Audience
Jack Carr’s books aren’t for everybody. The Daily Beast described The Terminal List as “an unhinged right-wing revenge fantasy” and The Playlist warned that it contained “a number of Conservative talking points and liberal takedowns.”
Yet for many readers, that’s exactly why they like it – or, as Carr himself says: “there’s not this woke stuff that’s shoved into it.” In an era of incredible sensitivity to issues surrounding race, sexuality, gender, and self-expression, the James Reece series is unapologetically written for an audience that shares Carr’s robust, right-leaning viewpoint of the world; and fans find it incredibly refreshing.
Now, that’s not to condone the politics you’ll find in the James Reece books – but it is worth observing that by appealing to people with similar politics to his own, Jack Carr has managed to build a rabid fanbase who devour each new book as soon as it’s released, and who helped drive the Amazon Prime adaptation into becoming one of the most-watched things on the streaming network.
Knowing your audience and giving them what they want is a powerful way to build your brand as an author – and you don’t have to take the right-wing approach to it. Entire categories of fiction have emerged championing LGBTQA+ rights, and Christian books remain robust best-sellers. It doesn’t really matter what your politics or beliefs are – just know that for all the potential readers you turn off by embracing your beliefs, you’ll gain some who’ll show you incredible loyalty.
Just remember where to toe the line. Jack Carr writes about a lot of right-wing talking points, including hot topics like government conspiracies and the politics surrounding the pandemic, and yet he never crosses the line into what might be considered ‘misinformation’ or ‘hate speech.’ Be unafraid of your beliefs, speak earnestly to your core audience, but always know the difference between fiction and reality; and make sure your audience does, too.
Keep Things Concise
As talented and successful as Jack Carr is, it’s worth admitting that his Reacher-like stories would never have seen the light of day if it wasn’t for the original article. We recently examined Lee Child’s brilliant craftsmanship when it comes to writing, and Jack Carr was clearly paying attention.
From his short, sharp sentences to his simple-yet-visceral choice of adjectives and verbs, Jack Carr’s writing is a masterclass in how to engage an audience and keep up a relentless narrative pace. There’s very little fat to trim in any of his books, and he never uses more words than he needs to in order to get his point across.
This isn’t to say this is the ‘best’ approach to writing, but it’s a style of storytelling perfectly suited to his audience – and just one more reason why people say his books are so addictive and compelling.
My advice here isn’t to copy Carr’s style – it certainly wouldn’t be appropriate for anything other than terse military thrillers. However, his lean prose and deliberate wording is worth making a note of, since it demonstrates incredible discipline as a writer and I think all aspiring authors (myself included) need to work on that.
At the same time, Jack Carr doesn’t spare any of the details when it comes to his books. In fact, people often make fun of him for being achingly specific about the guns his characters use, the cars they drive, and even the coffee they drink. One of Carr’s inspirations, Ian Fleming, practically invented the use of real-life brands in literature – but Carr takes it to the extreme.
Yet, once again, this is an aspect of his writing that Carr’s intended audience love – and it’s also highly effective in crafting his stories. As Carr himself explains:
“Weapons, gear and vehicles are important elements of my novels. Just like in real life, what blade and gun someone carries for defense (or offense), what they drive, the watch they wear, the boots and holster they use, all tell a story about that person. In my books I use that gear to develop my characters.”
This is good advice to follow, as being precise about these details helps bring your stories to life and makes them feel ‘real’ for your readers.
The last but perhaps most important piece of advice to take away from Jack Carr’s stratospheric rise to the best-seller charts is persistence. Keep at it – never give up!
That’s certainly true when it comes to Carr’s books. He’s often been quoted as saying that he’d had the same two dreams ever since he was a child – to become a Navy SEAL and to write a book. He managed to succeed at both of those objectives, and you can learn a lot from that.
I’ve always wanted to do this since I was a little kid. I love reading, writing, and learning. My mother was a librarian. So, I naturally gravitated toward it.
Becoming a successful writer is, after all, not a question of luck. It’s a question of writing and publishing better and better books each and every time. It’s about never backing down from the challenge to improve yourself and your craft. If you can stick to your writing the same way Jack Carr did, there’s no reason you can’t achieve at least some of the same things he’s managed to – and given how quickly Carr has built a career for himself as an author, there’s never been a better time to get started.
Jack Carr’s books aren’t for everybody – but much of the advice you can take away from his career is. Carr used the same single-minded determination that sustained his military career to achieve his success in writing, and there’s no reason you can’t do the same. He’s proof of something I’ve always strongly believed – that anybody can become a successful author if they put in the hard work and commitment. The only thing holding you back is you.