Mr. Monk and the Second Bite at the Apple

Now that MR. MONK IN OUTER SPACE is out in paperback, new reviews are showing up in the blogosphere, including these two.

Greg Morrow at Frothing At the Mouth thinks the book is a pleasant diversion.

The Monk series is perfect popcorn mystery, fun and easy to read.
Goldberg's use of Natalie as narrator means that we spend the most time
in the presence and thoughts of simply the most pleasant character on
the show, making the read even easier.

Winthrop Quiggy at And Then I Read thinks "it's by far the best one I've read in this series," even if he believes I'm not as good an author as I am a screenwriter. I'll take the back-handed compliment! Thanks for the positive reviews, guys.

15 thoughts on “Mr. Monk and the Second Bite at the Apple”

  1. OUTER SPACE has hit the shelves in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. I’m not sure how much to read into this, but Chapters ordered more copies than TWO ASSISTANTS. They are also carrying copies of Diagnosis Murder books. Guelph is a university town, so maybe interest in Monk is still growing in this demographic. Anyway, I have read OUTER SPACE twice and made notes on it. For whatever reason, the second read is even better than the first.

  2. I’m curious. Why do you read Lee’s books twice and what kind of notes are you making? He’s a good writer at what he does but he’s not J.D. Salinger.

  3. Why read novels twice, or more, and make notes? It’s just something I started doing to get better as a writer.
    My weak point was structure. My strong point was character. So I began studying how successful writers designed their Acts and Chapters.
    For Lee’s books, I read them through the first time to get the story. But then I want to know how Lee put the plot together. So I worked out that in OUTER SPACE there are five Acts, 7 chapters in Acts 1,2,4 and 5, and 1 chapter in Act 3, chapter 15. There are 5 chapter sections in each chapter, and 13 story beats in each chapter section. By studying how Lee lays out the plot, I’m teaching myself how to get better at something I wasn’t naturally good at.
    But this kind of work is a real joy for me. I love doing this anaylsis. And for some reason, the more I read a story, the more I appreciate the talents of the writer. The first time through, a novel might not seem great. But that’s not the case for additional readings (for me).
    Are you a writer, Tom? If so, what exercises do you do to get better?

  4. Dan,
    FWIW, I don’t agree with your break-down of OUTER SPACE…at least it’s not how *I* see the structure.
    I plot my tie-in books like TV shows and tend to stick to a four act structure with a teaser and a tag. One chapter would never constitute an entire act (as you have listed for “Act 3”). What methodology are you using to determine where one act ends and another begins?
    I’d also quibble with your notion that there are “13 story beats in each chapter section.” What do you consider a “story beat?”
    I can’t really share my outline here because it’s a rough, cut-and-paste mess that wouldn’t make any sense to anyone but me. But I can tell you this: I start with a four-act structure, each act ending on a major plot and/or character turn. In general, the Teaser and Act One set up the problem, the obstacles, and what is at stake for our heroes. Act Two sets our heroes on a course of action but, by the end, everything is turned upside down, inside out, whatever. Act Three, the heroes, reeling from the events of Act Two, set out on a new course of action, but things just keep getting more complicated and less clear to the point that it looks like they can never succeed. In Ac t Four, they solve problem, resolve the conflicts, and there’s a tag to let you know that life has returned to status quo.
    Within each act, I have a mini “four act structure” of sorts…and within each scene as well.
    I know going into each chapter what essential clue or misdirection I need to sneak in and what the character conflicts will be. I also know which “seeds” I will plant and in a general sense where in the story they will “bear fruit,” mystery-wise or character-wise down the line.

  5. You picked that review up pretty quickly, Lee. I am learning never to underestimate an author’s need to read about himself 🙂
    It turns out that I have not written previously about the Monk books (except in my head), as my review suggested, so I did want to amplify one of my points here.
    The Monk books made something clear to me, that a TV writer, and, as in this case, a licensed tie-in writer, and, as in the superhero comics that I’ve been reading for thirty years, a writer in a shared universe, must have the skill to quickly master and then synthesize the voice of a character that someone else created and defined.
    It’s a crucial skill, it’s what you’ve gotta have to make it in a writers’ room, and it’s what spec scripts are demonstrating to show runners.
    And I didn’t recognize it until you captured the voices of the characters so well in the Monk books.

  6. Lee,
    This is why I started doing the work of breaking down a novel all the way to its story beats (its smallest parts) — because talented writers (like yourself) can write a novel but they almost always can’t explain (in any detailed way) how they do what they do. I can tell, from breaking down many novels, that there are aspects of your creative process that you just do, but don’t really, consciously, know what or how you’re doing them. Your talent, I guess, just takes over and gets the work done for you.
    (I’m the same with creating characters, it just comes.)
    (It’s like speaking English. I can do it, but I have no idea how I’m doing it.)
    I’ve worked out what your “standard format” is for an Act in the Monk books. Here is a high-level outline of Act One of OUTER SPACE. It does not include the 13 story beats for each chapter section:
    Mr. Monk in Outer Space
    By Lee Goldberg
    New American Library, NYC: November, 2007
    Act 1 Outline:
    Chapter 1: Mr. Monk and the Gnarled Hands of Fate
    [Natalie wants to break out; Monk needs a place to stay.]
    Chapter Section 1: Natalie hates Scooter for saying she’s needy
    Chapter Section 2: She decides to break out of her narrow world
    Chapter Section 3: But she finds Monk crying. She is there for him. The carpet stain has upset him.
    Chapter Section 4: He will buy carpet but won’t give her a raise. So she makes him call the carpet company.
    Chapter Section 5: He wants to stay at her place, but she needs to be free.
    Chapter 2: Mr. Monk and the Glimpse of Hell
    [At Burgerville, Natalie gets Monk inside the building.]
    Chapter Section 1: At Burgerville, they meet Applebaum.
    Chapter Section 2: Natalie tells Stottlemeyer Monk is measuring her parked car.
    Chapter Section 3: So Stottlemeyer puts an officer on it to get Monk inside.
    Chapter Section 4: But Monk can’t use either door: after-hours or revolving.
    Chapter Section 5: Natalie figures out how to get Monk to use the revolving door.
    Chapter 3: Mr. Monk and the Body
    [Disher’s theory is corrected by Monk. Natalie is upset. Stottlemeyer gives the case to Disher and the SDU.]
    Chapter Section 1: Lorber was killed by a hit man; Stottlemeyer has called in Monk.
    Chapter Section 2: Disher explains his theory, convincing Stottlemeyer
    Chapter Section 3: Monk explains his alternate theory of the heart attack
    Chapter Section 4: Natalie is astounded at Stottlemeyer’s blasé attitude
    Chapter Section 5: Stottlemeyer lets go of the case to the SDU
    Chapter 4: Mr. Monk Goes Home
    [Monk can’t stay with Natalie, but he can with his brother.]
    Chapter Section 1: Monk won’t stay at Natalie’s because of the hamster.
    Chapter Section 2: So he goes to his brother Ambrose, who likes Natalie.
    Chapter Section 3: But they disagree over their father.
    Chapter Section 4: But Ambrose is nice to Natalie.
    Chapter Section 5: Monk feels so ashamed of his coffee stain. But Ambrose will give him support.
    Chapter 5: Mr. Monk and the Free Day
    [Natalie feels lost on her day off; but her parents were good while Monk’s mother was crazy.]
    Chapter Section 1: Natalie just wanders on her first day off.
    Chapter Section 2: Natalie feels lost without Julie and Monk.
    Chapter Section 3: Ambrose let Monk count the noodles last night.
    Chapter Section 4: Monk, in his room, doesn’t really know who Farrah Fawcett is.
    Chapter Section 5: Natalie realizes Monk and Ambrose had a crazy mother.
    Chapter 6: Mr. Monk and the Final Frontier
    [They view the crime scene, then see Mr. Snork on the security tape.]
    Chapter Section 1: At the crime scene, the experts are working.
    Chapter Section 2: Stottlemeyer encourages Natalie to analyze the crime scene.
    Chapter Section 3: But Natalie wonders why Monk has been called in.
    Chapter Section 4: But they’ll view the security tape. Monk was right about Lorber.
    Chapter Section 5: The shooter was dressed as Mr. Snork, a TV character.
    Chapter 7: Mr. Monk and the Fan
    [Mr. Snorks are everywhere.
    Hibbler says Kyle and Minerva were against the new show.
    Stipe was at the Belmont Hotel.
    He approved the show, which angered the fans.]
    Chapter Section 1: They figure the shooter was sending a message. But they can’t trace him by powder stains or costume sales.
    Chapter Section 2: Morris Hibbler says Stipe was staying at the Belmont Hotel.
    Chapter Section 3: But Hibbler won’t have a second 7-Up as Monk wants.
    Chapter Section 4: Only Kyle Bethany and Minerva Klane aren’t here. Monk gives Hibbler a V8. Natalie had a crush on Bethany.
    Chapter Section 5: Kyle and Minerva were against the new show. But Stipe approved the new show, which angered the fans. Powder tests on Hibbler are negative.
    (If you want an outline of your novels, I can send it to you, I guess.)
    (If you like, I can send an outline of a chapter section showing the 13 story beats. You might be writing “by feel” when you do a chapter section and it just comes out naturally in 13 story beats.)
    One thing you said, Lee, that interested me was:
    “I know going into each chapter what essential clue or misdirection I need to sneak in and what the character conflicts will be. I also know which “seeds” I will plant and in a general sense where in the story they will “bear fruit,” mystery-wise or character-wise down the line.”
    This tells me that you have a model in mind of your 4 Act structure and that you know how the plot strands move through the Acts. I would like to hear your take on what “seeds” you plant and where and why and where they pay off in later Acts, if you are okay with discussing it.
    Anyway, it seems to me that if a writer has a model in mind of the entire novel’s structure, that inventing the content comes much, much faster and easier.

  7. Dan,
    I can’t really comment in detail on your “outline” without giving away major spoilers…but it seems to me you are cataloging “what happens” without actually tracking the key moments in the mystery or character arcs, which are the most important part of the plot (and in determining where the “acts” are). In truth, it seems to me you are actually missing what’s really important in each scene…and you certainly missing all the “seeds” (the moments where I plant a fact or a character trait or a clue that will “pay off” later. The revolving door is one, for example). Maybe those are the story beats you are talking about. If so, I’m not sure what this outline is actually, um, outlining. I can say that Chapter 7 doesn’t feel like the end of Act One to me…at least not the way you describe it here. I’m afraid I don’t have the time to deconstruct OUTER SPACE for you into scenes and acts, but from what I am reading here, it seems to me you are off-base in your analysis.
    Also, I strongly disagree with your premise that most authors can’t explain how they plot or how their books work. I have found the opposite is true…they are very aware of the structure of their stories and the arcs of their characters.
    In my case, I have explained in detail how I plot…at least for TV. It’s all in my book SUCCESSFUL TELEVISION WRITING…and in many posts on this blog!

  8. Diverging from the topic of Lee’s book to talk about Dan William’s comment… Creating acts is something that writers do, but a reader can come along and “re act”. You could take Shakespeare’s five acts and turn them into three acts, or two acts. You could take Lee’s four acts and turn them into two acts.
    So, you could see five acts from a reader’s perspective, and the writer could see four acts from his perspective, in the same book
    Or something like that…it’s late…

  9. Lee,
    In my analysis I do track the key moments in the chapters and the charcter arcs and how the “seeds” payoff in later Acts and chapters — but I just wanted your own take on it. Instead, you are taking a simple high-level plot outline that describes the basic business that is done in the chapter sections and dis-ing it for not being something else and for not including everything within the Act, but that’s just you. You are a gun that’s always popping off. 🙂
    My outline is good as a high-level model for any Act 1 of any mystery story, but using different characters and content. But in my research I’ve gone beyond that to work out the rules for creating the content. These rules create a good story every time. These rules are what are already programmed into writers with talent. So you didn’t understand, before you made your comments, that there is a lot more to my work than what I showed you. I can take any premise and break it down into Acts, Chapters, Chapter Sections and Story Beats, following the models I’ve built, and, at the same time, know what I’m doing, whereas, as you yourself said, your outline is a mish-mash of cut-and-paste, which tells me you can do it but, at this very low level of detail, its intuition that you are using. Which is good, it just doesn’t tell writers like myself how to write at this low level. Then again, I have figured out the rules to do it, but I’m not so sure you have.
    I really loved your book on TV writing. And you are correct, it outlined the process at a deeper level than most all of the others do. But you still did not show how to accomplish all sorts of things with the plot. No one reading your book could follow its rules and write a good script. It leaves out too much detail. (At least, it does for me.) So there is more to discover about the writing process than is contained in your book, Horatio. 🙂
    If you have found that writers know what they are doing at all levels of the writing process, all I can say is that I have found it to be the reverse, in every case, including your own with your TV book. So much process is left out that the book reader, trying to apply the lessons, can’t get their script to work.
    As for STORY BEATS, I can’t believe you don’t know what a story beat is. When you write a chapter section, you divide it into four mini-acts with 3 story beats per mini-act, yielding 12 story beats. But you often, not always, add in a middle story beat between mini-act 2 and mini-act 3, giving 13 story beats to the chapter section. If you really don’t know what I’m talking about, then this is proof that you can do it but that it’s your unconscious talent at work rather than you knowing what your are doing explicitly.
    I typed up the first chapter section of TWO ASSISTANTS and divided it into story beats and gave them titles. That’s it. This model just labels the story beats, it doesn’t go into the rules for creating them. But as a model for opening a book, it’s useful (and it is the model you eventually groped your way to.)
    Mr. Monk and the Two Assistants
    by Lee Goldberg
    New American Library: New York, 2007
    Chapter 1: Mr. Monk Gets His Kicks
    My name is Natalie Teeger. I’m an honest-to-goodness soccer mom and proud of it. My twelve-year-old daughter, Julie, plays defence on the Slammers in the all-girl league. The kids get together at Dolores Park for practices on Saturdays and games on Sundays.
    [1. Introduces Natalie and Julie and soccer.]
    On this particular Sunday, my boss, Adrian Monk, the legendary detective, was with us at the game. He was too restless to stay at home. For the past couple days, he’d been investigating the brutal beating death of the reviled E. L. Lancaster, who ran the mortgage division of a San Francisco bank.
    [2. Introduces Monk and the case he’s working on.]
    Lancaster was disliked by just about everyone he’d ever met. He’d even foreclosed on his parents’ home when his father, slipping into senility, missed a couple mortgage payments.
    I’m not kidding. Lancaster was that lovable.
    [3. Reveals how detestable the victim was.]
    The only clue Monk had to work with was a confusing cluster of overlapping bloody footprints belonging to the murderer.
    [4. Reveals the only clue.]
    Captain Leland Stottlemeyer’s theory on the footprints was that the victim must have delivered a blow in self-defence that left his attacker reeling and dizzy.
    [5. Reveals Stottlemeyer’s (mistaken) theory.]
    Lieutenant Randy Disher, the captain’s right-hand man, was checking area hospitals for anyone who might have come in with a head wound.
    [6. Reveals action taken pursuing the (mistaken) theory.]
    I’ve seen Monk solve a homicide within a few minutes of arriving at the crime scene. But this case had too many suspects and too few clues. The investigation was making Monk even more nuts than usual.
    [7. Reveals how the case is affecting Monk, personally.]
    Monk’s basic problem is that he’s obsessed with imposing order on a world that is, by nature, disordered. It’s a problem he’s never going to solve. But he’s not alone in his futile pursuit. We’ve all got the same problem, only not to his degree.
    [8. Reveals Monk’s basic problem, which we all have.]
    Look at me, for example. My job is to make Monk’s life as orderly as possible so he can focus on bringing order to disorder, which is the method he uses to solve murders, which is how he makes a living, which is how he’s able to pay me.
    [9. Reveals Natalie’s relationship with Monk.]
    When I’m not with Monk, I’m trying to maintain some kind of order in my own life and to create a consistent, safe and nurturing environment for my daughter.
    [10. Reveals Natalie’s goals.]
    So I scramble to pay the bills, to do the laundry, to keep the house clean, to get Julie to school on time, to make sure she gets all her work done, to coordinate all her activities, playdates, to – Well, you get the point, because you’re probably doing it, too,
    [11. Reveals some of Natalie’s chores.]
    I can never get ahead of it all. I can never get everything under control. And I never will. I know that, but I keep trying to anyway.
    [12. The Resolution: She can never succeed, but has to keep trying.]
    That’s Monk, too.
    [13. The Ending Button: Monk can never succeed, but he keeps trying, too.]
    Lee, do you see how the story beat labels form a set of instructions for what to write at each story beat position? They illuminate the steps to follow in telling a professional successful story. Yes, there’s a lot more to it. The relationship between each story beat and each mini-act needs to be defined (and I can do that), but anybody looking at this model could produce their own original chapter section, tweaking it here and there, adding in information, having different characters, and they would get a very good result.
    Anyway, go ahead and bash! Pop, pop, pop.
    Dan 🙂
    P.S. Can you give your take on character arc and how the arc works in the 4 Act structure?

  10. I’ve never outlined a novel in my life. I just plunge the characters into an initial dilemma and see what happens. Maybe that’s my weakness. When publishers want a synopsis, I drive them nuts.

  11. I had no idea that you used a four-act structure for your TV tie-ins. Obviously, the publisher should take all the ads from the end of the book and stick them between acts. Maybe sell some advertising space too, like those glossy cigarette ads publishers used to bind into paperbacks.

  12. Yes, Richard, that’s exactly what I was doing, just taking the characters forward, not really able to see at the outset what the story was — and it (for me) produced no good results. Therefore, I started working out the plot of novels I liked, like Lee’s, right down to the sentence level and even the parts that make up the sentences. (I didn’t have the talent the you and Lee do of naturally being able to feel your way through a plot and produce a successful result.)
    Yes, Danny, what an interesting idea, to include ads in a book or even to put product placements in.
    Lee, I was worried you were going to blow me out of the water so I reread your beat sheet in your writing book for the Diagnosis Murder episode, “A Passion for Murder.” It’s very inspiring and first class work, guided by a great talent. Reading your stuff inspires others to write, I would argue.

  13. I think I’ve said this before…somewhere. Outer Space is my favorite book so far. I re-read it recently, and for some reason, whenever I read the name Hibler, I kept thinking Hitler. It was a little disturbing.
    Ann Peek


Leave a Comment