Monday, June 18, 2012

Does Size Really Matter?

I was recently asked by the ITW Thriller "Roundtable" if, as a an author, I thought a thriller had to be played out only on a large canvass or if an intimate setting might suffice. Here's my neither right or wrong answer:

I believe an intimate story can thrill as much as a story played out over a large canvas. As always it's what the author brings to the story...the tone, the pace, the setting (even if it's a cafe table occupied by a man and a woman in conflict), the dialogue, the ability to use flashbacks as a devise to shift the setting from the intimate to the large.

I'm reminded of that famous writing exercise in which the student is asked to write a story that has a beginning, a middle, and an ending and the only character will be a piece of fruit. But the trick is, the true identity of the fruit can never be revealed (You can't start the story out by writing, "I'm an orange"). It can only be described. I'm also reminded of a movie I watched recently on Netflix about a contractor working in war-torn Iraq who has the misfortune of waking up inside a coffin buried in the earth. All he has on him is a cell phone and a lighter, and it's either call for help or die. The story in particular was far too claustrophobic for me to endure the entire ninety or so minutes, but it was certainly thrilling.

There are no real rules for writing thrillers (Okay, who disagrees with this statement?). Traditionally speaking, as both a writer and a reader, I prefer a pile-driving plot with an eclectic and rich cast of characters, and a story that takes my protagonist on the trill ride of his or her life. I have some novels, like the forthcoming Blue Moonlight, that has my main character, detective Dick Moonlight, chasing after a zip-drive that contains sensitive nuclear secrets in New York, Florence, Italy (Yup, there's a Hitchcock-style chase scene between Moonlight and a leather-clad Russian thug on top of the Duomo), and back again. But I also have a new offering called Permanence, that although taking place also in the US and Italy, involves only a man and a woman in serious, if not dangerous conflict. I consider both thrillers, but while the former might please a large variety of readers, the latter is more suited to an audience that might enjoy a more ummmm, gasp, literary style psychological suspense read.

In the end, if an author really wants to break out of his shell and come to realize his true story-telling potential, he needs to experiment with different types of stories, different forms of writing, different POVs and certainly, different canvas sizes.

As an author, what kinds of risks are you willing to take?


  1. Hi -
    I micro-shorts, short-shorts, novellas, to novels. I have a hard time stretching the canvass to the 100,000 word level. However, I think I do okay. Not a thriller writer here - I do mostly supernatural, horror, and paranormal.

    I need to check to see if you have more novels out.


  2. I love the vignette style myself Cyn...But it's whatever the story calls for...

  3. Thrillers can take place on any scale, in my opinion. I think the popularity of the techno-thriller (Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn etc.) has a lot of people thinking a book has to take place on a grand scale to be a thriller. David Morrell's CREEPERS limits its action to a shuttered hotel on the Jersey shore, but I think most people would agree that it's a thriller.

    Personally, I tend to like books that take place on a smaller scale and spend more time in the characters' heads and a little less scanning the scenery. But it's all a matter of personal taste, I guess.