Below is a guest post by Stephen Leather, author of The Basement.
The Basementwas very much an experiment, a book that I wrote in between two of my action thrillers. Thrillers are generally written in the third person, which allows you to switch between multiple viewpoints. But I wanted to try writing in the first person, which really allows you to get inside the head of a character.
But then I realized that I could have much more fun if I also wrote in the second person. That reads as if you are standing behind a character and telling them what they are doing. It’s a quite a strange way of telling a story, where the reader effectively becomes the narrator, a technique which was used to great effect by Jay McInerney in his novel Bright Lights, Big City.
What made The Basementsuch a fascinating book to write is that the story alternates between two viewpoints – one in the first person and another in the second person.
The first person viewpoint is that of Marvin Waller, a New York-based screenwriter who isn’t half as smart as he thinks he is. Waller is trying to pitch his ideas to movie people in New York but isn’t having much luck. And the more he is rejected, the more frustrated he becomes.
The second person viewpoint is that of a psychopath who has been torturing and killing women in a basement somewhere in the city. The torture scenes aren’t graphic and it becomes clear that the psychopath is more interested in exerting control than in inflicting pain. But the torture always ends the same way - once the victim has become fully compliant, or trained, they are killed.
Two New York detectives are convinced that Waller is the killer, but they have a hard time proving it – especially when Waller goes on the attack and starts to make their lives a misery.
The detectives know that the psychopath has a new victim and that the clock is ticking. If they don’t identify the killer, another girl will die. But is Waller the killer? It certainly seems so, and the suspense is ratcheted up as the reader is led to believe that the two viewpoints are from the same character – that Waller goes into second person mode when he is torturing and killing down in the basement and is in first person mode as he moves around the city.
As the detectives close in on Waller, the truth eventually emerges. And that’s where there is one final twist that makes the reader reassess everything that has gone before and which will hopefully leave them breathless. That’s if I’ve done it right, of course!