Monday, April 27, 2009

Why Thrillers? Why Now?

James Scott Bell has some thoughts today for Forensics and Faith readers:

You may have seen reports recently about how romance writing is flourishing in these tough economic times. The rationale offered is escapism, and there's something to that. People facing bad news generally don't want more of it in their entertainment. Romances offer simplicity, predictability and hope.

But let's put in a word about thrillers. I have a feeling this is going to be a growth category, too, in a big way.

Why? Because thrillers are the original stories, the most ancient and satisfying form of fiction.

I heard Lee Child wax on this theory not long ago. For those first communities, where each day could be your last, where enemies hid in the dark forests and unexplored plain, thrilling stories were, says Child, essential for "fear management." When the tale was told of heroes going out and conquering evil, the community was inspired to press on.

Cut to today. Turn on the evening news, or scan stories on the net. Dark indeed. What thrillers give readers, then, is still a form of fear management, a way to believe that evil can be overcome.

We who write thrillers are the voices around the fires now, especially in this age they call postmodern.

Coming out of the Enlightenment, rational thought and dogma ruled. Of course, we still had stories. But the teacher, preacher, priest and professor ruled the cultural roost. They taught from on high, in objective terms, about what should be thought, and why (of course, several wars broke out over differences here, but we'll let that pass for the moment).

Now we are witnessing a massive cultural disengagement with monistic authority and even objectivity about truth. People aren't trusting the old institutions so much anymore. So who is to guide them through the savage nights of the soul?

The thriller writers, that's who. Because story is how readers connect to truth. Stories are how they find their way in the dark.

Which gives us a bit of responsibility as tale spinners, wouldn't you agree?

I don’t mean we have to be sending "preachy" messages. As Sam Goldwyn once put it, "You want to send a message? Try Western Union." But he also said, "This script has too much plot and not enough story." What he was pointing to, in his inimitable way, was the deeper level of narrative--to theme.

I'm sometimes asked in interviews if there is a unifying theme in my books. I think so. They are all about the search for justice in a dark world. In that search, I hope to bring a little comfort and even inspiration to the readers. I know several other writers, including the administrator of this here Forensics and Faith blog, who hope the same thing.

So look for thrillers to keep up the pace in these times. Maybe they won't run neck and neck with romances, but when you want a gunshot instead of a kiss, we'll be there for you.


So, BGS, what's your response?


HollyMag said...

I enjoy a thriller over a romance any day! Keep writing great stories! Blessings

Kristina said...

Romances never did it for me. If I want excitement and for my blood pressure to go up just a little then it is a thriller book for me.

Dark Pursuit was a book that had me totally scared while got me thinking about a relationship in my own family that wasn't exactly any where near what it should have been. A romance just can't do that. For me anyway.

James Scott Bell said...

And let me quickly add, lest there be any misunderstanding: I am not in the least being critical of romances or readers thereof. I am all for variety in entertainment, and simply wanted to put in a word for my genre. The key to any of this is a ripping good story, no matter what the category. Thrillers can have kisses, and romances dead bodies, so long as the writing is solid!

Nicole said...

I agree with Jim's last comment here. I used to read more romances, but the "category" part of them became boring. Now you put a little romance in a mystery or thriller and you've got perfect (like a nun and an attorney? Wow!).

Good mysteries and thrillers can go so many places in a story capturing the outer limits of imagination.

To make a romance really good, there has to be some in depth character study with superb writing. JMO

Lisa Buffaloe said...

I love the comment about "fear management." A good thriller is like a roller coaster ride--twists, turns, and pulse pumping action, ending in a safe, satisfying landing. *Happy sigh*

Benjamin said...

Thoughtful, inspiring - awesome post.

I especially love the contextualization of our postmodern society and the increased importance of stories as a result. Good insights.

Kathy C. said...

Suspense is my favorite.

Anette Acker said...

I think suspense is definitely a way of managing fear, for the reasons you gave. If the news inspires fear, we need an acceptable way to express it.
While reading suspense, we're turning depressing fear into a controlled thrill ride.

Patricia said...

How does a good romantic suspense fit in here? Don't they include the best elements of both the romance and thriller genres?