Monday, June 16, 2014

Make It Personal

I should preface this by saying that I don't write thrillers. Every time I try, someone shoots me down, so there’s a possibility that I don’t know what I’m talking about. But even though I don’t produce them, I do like to consume them, and I’ve had a few thoughts that I wanted to share.

I finally saw Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit over the weekend, and while I liked it on the whole, I thought it suffered from the same problem that Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol did:

The climax was less interesting than the sequence that led up to it.

In Jack Ryan, I loved the Moscow sequence, but the climax in New York barely held my interest. And in Mission: Impossible, I loved the Dubai sequence, but the climax in Mumbai fell flat for me. Now, at first blush, that seems counterintuitive. Jack Ryan was trying to thwart a terrorist attack that would have killed thousands of people and obliterated the dollar’s value (which would have ended up killing tens of thousands more). Similarly, Ethan Hunt was trying to prevent nuclear war. The stakes should have been huge.

But it turns out that body counts matter a lot less to me--and probably to other consumers--than deeply personal stakes. The world wouldn’t have blown up if things hadn’t worked out in Moscow or Dubai, but Jack Ryan would have lost his fiancĂ©e, and Ethan Hunt would have collapsed the whole Mission: Impossible mythology. (Don’t mess up the masks, Ethan. You can mess up everything else, but you can’t mess up those.) I cared about Cathy in a way I didn’t care about those New York extras (though that may have been because I’d never heard Keira Knightley do an American accent before, but still). When the story hits the fan, I care about CHARACTERS and the things they care about.

So if you don’t want an interior sequence to outshine your climax, I have one piece of advice: make it personal.


Myrna Foster said...

This is relevant to how I'm revising TBW now. Thanks!

Maria said...

So true. Caring about the characters makes all the difference!

Krista Van Dolzer said...

You're welcome, Myrna. Sounds exciting!

Maria, that's what I wish more thrillers would figure out. All the action in the world can't make up for stagnant characters (at least in my opinion).