Monday, February 25, 2013

Story Satire #3: Action/Thriller

I'm currently staring down the barrel of yet another conference. Yep, just finished at LTUE and I've got another on the agenda. Good thing I'm not presenting! Next week I am going to the big, bad AWP conference in Boston with the intention of becoming a better writer. There's a possibility I may not post next week at this time, as I will be in the throes of packing and traveling, so here's another Story Satire to keep you happy until I can report on Boston.

There is a good market for action and thrillers right now, courtesy of writers like Dan Brown. Here is how to capitalize on the trend without wasting too much energy.

1. Start with a good conspiracy. I don't mean aliens or the John F. Kennedy shooting; pick something less known and less showy. The less people know about your conspiracy, the more you can make up. The best conspiracies are also meaningful to many, many people. If you can make it about history or, better yet, religion, you're doing well. If you can add spies, that will be even better.

2. Create a jaded professional as your main character. Male, female, doesn't matter. This person must be the top of their field, preferably a field that is little-known or doesn't exist, as that will allow you to make up as much as you can and avoid having to research. However, a category that no one completely understands like "black ops agent" or "experimental geneticist" would work as well. This person has lost faith in some way: in God, his/her family, his/her job, etc. He or she has become a cynic. Perhaps the job is all this person has left.

3. Introduce an impossible event. Scientists have discovered/done something that changes life as humanity knows it, historians have uncovered some fact that changes the way America sees itself (Lincoln was a serial killer, for one example). Or, have a figure of importance murdered or kidnapped in a way that is either physically impossible or highly symbolic and thus a way that no one would ever be murdered in real life. Your jaded professional is then summoned to investigate and/or fix the problem.

4. End each chapter with a suspenseful cliff hanger, even if nothing comes of it. Example: "Her heart stopped when she heard the voice on the phone. [CHAPTER BREAK] "Hi, honey," her father said. "Just landed at the airport. We got in early."

5. Introduce the sidekick/love interest. The sidekick/love interest is not to be confused with the sidekick/informant, who will end up dead before the book is two-thirds through. The love interest joins the jaded professional out of obligation, never choice. He or she is sassy and/or irritating at first, but comes to represent everything the JP wishes the world was like. The love interest will need rescuing from a gruesome death by the JP.

6. Here you have two options: shoot-'em-up or intellectual. The shoot-'em-up stars a hit man, spy, assassin, soldier as its hero and is concerned with eliminating all the obstacles between him/her and the target. Prepare to write a lot of action scenes and stock dialogue as the hero shoots a lot of people in the back. ("I always knew I'd get you in the end.")

The intellectual stars a scientist, historian, professor, or academic of some other kind. The goal is figuring out the truth of something. Prepare to write a lot of passages explaining hidden clues or knowledge your readers might not know already. A good way to do this is to have dialogue between 2 experts, saying things like, "As you know..." and "Remember when they told us...".

7. Introduce a creepy antagonist who, at first, we are introduced to as a friend/mentor/colleague of your hero. This person is brilliant but has one quirk, one weakness, that the hero exploits at some point. Your antagonist may also let the hero win, if said antagonist is insane. Insane villains take less development and are easy to manipulate. The villain must also have a minion that we see as the bad guy from the beginning.

8. Leave a trail of bodies. The reader won't understand how serious the matter is unless you show them how many people get killed for knowing too much, whether by your hero's hand or the hand of the antagonist. Never mind how the police would respond to so many deaths or that the bad guy is tipping his hand by killing everyone associated. This is a thriller, and we need a body count. Besides, your bad guy's insane, right? Note: try not to kill random, unnamed characters. The more your readers know about your minor characters, the more they're hearts will break when those characters die. Increase this effect by having the slated-for-death characters mention newborn babies, family members in need, the proximity of retirement or that dream job, or the imminent proposal/marriage to the spouse of their dreams.

9. Have a big reveal at the end. Your hero has killed his or her way to the end, or unraveled the clues. Here we find out who the bad guy is, what the REAL truth is (because the one the hero has been chasing isn't real). Now, the hero and villain must fight. It will be a matched battle, and if your hero and villain are intellectuals, you may have them fight like kung-fu experts and never explain how they came by those skills. The hero will lose, and as the villain is gloating and reveling, the sidekick/love interest (who has not been present) will deliver a final, deciding blow to the bad guy. They will do nothing of note with what has happened, and go recover on vacation together.

10. Writers who try too hard will say that this formula could be saved by varying the characters, the plot lines, and mostly by creating 3-D characters that react like real people and not like stock characters, but that is no concern of yours. It takes too long to create a 3-D hero and anyway, stock characters work just fine. You just need to make sure you choose a conspiracy or issue that is a hot topic right now, so as to sell the most books you can.

That's all this week. Remember, this is a satire. Please don't go and write this book; it has already been done a million times. But if you have a good idea for a action/thriller with some real, unique characters, then go for it. Bring something new. Stand out.

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