Fiction that explores the monsters and strangers among us.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Reading for Plot

If like me, you’re hardwired for suspense/thriller stories, then you want to know what happens next. Sure you care about the main characters. Will she live or die? Will the boy marry the girl? But that first time around, we’re focused on the monster. How are they going to kill that thing?

Plot-driven fiction concentrates on the action, usually because the action is bigger than life. But all stories have action. All stories have plot. The difference when you read a plot-driven story is your satisfaction comes primarily from the action of the story rather than the changes the characters may undertake during the action.

In suspense/thriller genre fiction, the story opens with something bad happening but the reader isn’t clued in yet as to what the terror is. As the story continues and more bad things happen to good people, the reader realizes who or what the monster is. The characters in the story figure out who the monster is usually about one-third of the way through the novel. Once they know who is doing it, they go about the business of killing the beast. This journey or quest leads to a climactic battle in which the forces of good triumph over evil in the traditional suspense/thriller.

In more recent stories, the “monster” turns out to be not so bad after all. So the author lets the vampire off the hook in Twilight and the space monster gets his space ship back and leaves the earth unharmed in the film Super8. The real "monster" in Super8 isn't the monster at all. It's the air force officer who abuses the monster. But the space monster ends up killing his share of good guys as well as the evil air force officer.

This shift away from good versus evil reflects today’s culture where morality has degenerated into a philosophy based on “it’s all good.” In traditional storytelling, it ain’t "all good." There are good guys and bad guys. The main character’s job is to stop the bad guy. While it's important to understand we are all capable of good and evil actions, suspense/thriller stories work best when the forces of good battle the forces of evil with a clear victory for good. Otherwise the quest fails. Keep in mind suspense/thriller stories are bigger than life with no need to muck around in the depths of sloppy morality.

Read it again, Sam
One of the joys of the second time reading an action-driven story is discovering the characters. For example, in my novel Fulfillment, which is about God versus Satan, Mary starts out as an innocent, fearful young teenage girl. By story’s end, she is a strong woman who protects her infant son from the vilest of evils. In my soon to be released novel, Faerie Tale, an ex-con who has been beaten down by life after a wrongful conviction, grows into the strong, forceful personality well able to take on demonic forces. So just to contradict myself a little bit, mucking around in the depths of sloppy morality can add to the character development in a suspense/thriller story, but the author should tell this story from a moral base firmly rooted in good triumphs over evil.

To learn more about my novel Fulfillment, click here for Amazon or click here for paperback.

Here’s another novel idea…
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