As a writer of romantic suspense, and more recently inspirational romantic suspense, tropes come with the territory for me. There are some I like more than others. But the beauty of a trope is that the reader knows what they’re going to get.
As I embark on writing my first psychological thriller, I have been thinking a lot about the role of monsters and antiheroes in modern story telling. With so many anti-heroes in our popular culture, like Walter White, Martin Byrde and Amy Dunne, have these morally questionable protagonists replaced villains and monsters for good?
This week I had a message from a lost friend. You know how it is—people come and go from your life. He’s a good 10 years older than me, so I was practically a kid when we last met. Our conversation had me thinking about just how much people change yet stay the same. We hadn’t talked in 20 years, but we fell back into the easy conversation we had all those years ago.
Unless a fairy doomed you from birth to only tell the truth (like Tomas in Power of a Princess) you are a constant liar. Just like me and everyone else in the world. The interesting thing about lies is that most of us think we are honest—we underestimate how often we lie to protect our self-esteem. This means that your characters need to be liars too. But just like us, our characters always lie for a reason. And just like us, they often don’t realise they’re doing it!
I once had a friend who decided he was going to change careers. He dreamed of abandoning his spreadsheets to become a psychiatrist. He couldn’t see anything more worthwhile in life than discovering the inner workings of humans. I agreed. But gee, it takes around 11 years to get qualified. Sounds like a long time, doesn’t it? Crazy decision (pun intended).
My current WIP is a novel rewrite with some specific goals in mind. The primary issue to fix is a distinct lack of introspection. This has completely thrown out the pacing which unfortunately means the suspense is not as, well, suspenseful as it might be.
One of my favourite paintings is David with the Head of Goliath by Caravaggio. The picture to the left does not do the painting justice. In person, it is incredible. But paintings like this can teach us a lot as writers as they are a moment in time after a lifetime of backstory. And a moment in time is exactly where we find our protagonist.
Mark Twain’s words “the truth is stranger than fiction” have become a cliché because they are accurate. As fiction writers, we get to experience this in real time: the first reader or editor comments, “that just wasn’t believable”; yet you had stolen it from a real life experience. This played out for me when I read a recent interview.
Have you ever been told “you’re your own worst enemy”? Or “you make things so hard for yourself”? These phrases hold negative connotations. And normally in our own lives we try to avoid situations where we could be accused like this! Not so, your protagonist.