What can writers learn by studying Kathy Reichs?
When we think of authors whose work is a masterclass in blending riveting storytelling with expert knowledge, Kathy Reichs immediately comes to mind. Known for her best-selling crime novels which inspired the hit TV series “Bones”, Reichs’ journey from a forensic anthropologist to a literary sensation is nothing short of remarkable.
In today’s blog, Ginger will delve into the unique elements that make Reichs’ work stand out. From her adept use of forensic science, to her complex plot, relatable characters and diverse settings, Reichs crafts enthralling tales that leave readers wanting more. By drawing on our own life experiences, we can also master these techniques, creating relatable and realistic stories that resonate within our chosen genres.
Last month, I wrote a post entitled: “What can writers learn from reading Freida McFadden?” and immediately received a couple of requests to write a similar post about an author whose inspirational fingerprints can definitely be identified all over McFadden’s work – the inimitable Kathy Reichs.
Today, Kathy Reichs is probably best known as the author of 23 best-selling crime novels that also inspired a wildly successful television show, Bones. However, Reichs began her career very differently – as a forensic anthropologist who helped solve violent crime by examining the bodies of the victims.
Her unique background inspired the career and adventures of the main character of her books, Temperance Brennan, who is also a forensic anthropologist. In Reich’s books, Temperance examines the bones of the victims of violent crime and uses the clues she finds to help solve them. It’s a unique approach to the “whodunnit” genre, and serves as the basis for a series of gripping thrillers that have kept readers on the edge of our seats since Reich’s 1997 debut novel Déjà_Dead.
For self-published authors who write in the crime or thriller genre, there’s a lot to learn by studying the work of Kathy Reichs – especially how to balance technical accuracy with compelling storytelling. In this post, I’ll explore some of the powerful ways Reichs has used her professional background to create the seamless blend of science and fiction that have become a signature of her work.
Mastering the Art of Forensic Storytelling
Reichs background as a forensic anthropologist provides more than just the inspiration for Temperance Brennan and her career. It also infuses her novels with a unique blend of science and storytelling. As aspiring authors, we can study her books to understand how to weave accurate details about our own backgrounds and career into our narrative, which can elevate the authenticity of our work.
Reichs’ first book, Déjà Dead, serves as an excellent example of how to do this right. As our protagonist Temperance examines the bones of the victim of a suspected serial killer, Reichs not only creates a gripping narrative that keeps us on the edge of our seats, but also educates us about how real-life forensic anthropologists use bones to learn about the life (and death) of the people whose bodies they examine. Whether your background is in forensics or something slightly less gruesome, you can learn from Reichs how to balance the technical accuracy of your own unique background with the compelling storytelling required to engage your readers. This can make your work not just entertaining, but also informative.
Creating Relatable Protagonists
Temperance Brennan, the central character in Kathy Reichs’ novels, is more than just a gifted forensic anthropologist. She’s also a vividly relatable human being, with her own flaws and challenges to overcome. As a woman deeply immersed in the world of science and logic, she often grapples with the nuances of human emotions. Her pragmatic approach to life can lead to moments of isolation and difficulty connecting with others on a personal level. Additionally, Brennan’s relentless pursuit of justice and truth sometimes blinds her to the emotional toll her work takes on her own well-being. These imperfections make Temperance Brennan a nuanced and relatable protagonist that readers have really come to care about.
The Power of Location
Reichs’ novels aren’t just about crime – they’re also a journey through diverse and exciting locations. From the bustling streets of Montreal to the swamps of North Carolina, the settings in her books become characters in their own right; setting the tone for each mystery that Temperance unravels. Self-published authors can learn to leverage the power of location in the same way Reichs does – using places you’re familiar with to enhance the mood and atmosphere of your stories. Whether it’s a small town with a dark secret or an urban landscape filled with hidden dangers, incorporating a vivid sense of “place” can add layers to your narrative, making your story more immersive for readers; especially if they’ve visited the locations you write about.
Balancing Plot Complexity
The very nature of crime fiction demands intricate plots complete with twists and turns that keep readers guessing until the final page (and if you want to learn about how to write a good plot twist, check out this blog post.) However, even among her talented peers, Reichs’ novels stand apart and serve as a veritable masterclass in plot complexity. 2007’s Bones to Ashes, the tenth novel to feature Temperance Brennan, is a prime example of how Reichs introduces multiple storylines that converge seamlessly and climax with a deeply satisfying resolution. Self-published authors can learn a lot by studying Reichs’ talent at balancing this complexity without overwhelming the reader. Learning how to layer plots, introduce subplots, and tie them together cohesively – while not losing the reader’s attention – is what has made Reich’s books so popular.
Research and Attention to Detail
Reichs’ background as a forensic anthropologist has become one of the unique selling points of her books, and evident in the meticulous research that underpins each and every one of her novels. Authors can take a cue from Reichs’ commitment to accuracy and attention to detail – especially how she never lets the needs of her plot supersede the accuracy of what she writes about. Thorough research not only lends credibility to your narrative, but also enhances the reader’s experience because of the authenticity with which you write. So, whether delving into scientific procedures or exploring cultural nuances, invest the time you need to conduct comprehensive research and get your facts straight, as this is the key to ensuring every aspect of your story feels authentic.
Navigating the Interplay of Science and Fiction
That being said, never forget that you’re writing a story, and it’s meant to be entertaining! One of the hallmarks of Kathy Reichs’ writing is the seamless integration of the scientific facts I just mentioned into compelling fictional narratives. Other writers can learn from Reichs how to strike that delicate balance between educating your readers and entertaining them. Reichs earned her success by conveying complex scientific concepts in a digestible manner without compromising the pace of her stories, and if you can master that same skill, you’ll be able to offer your readers an enriching and educational reading experience that doesn’t sacrifice the momentum or emotional impact of your story.
Kath Reichs has earned her place as one of the queens of crime fiction, and there’s a lot we can learn by studying her books. From the art of forensic storytelling to the intricacies of character development – and especially the delicate balance she sets between science fact and criminal fiction – Reichs’ novels offer a great roadmap for aspiring crime writers to be inspired by.
What has really worked well for her is the unique perspective and background that she brings to the crime genre – something no other writer had done before. Rather than imitating her style, authors who admire Kathy Reichs should work on identifying what unique perspective they can bring to their stories; carving out their own unique space in a crowded, but consistently popular genre of fiction.