Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Big Threats - Big Stories?

Big Threats, small threats.
Threats make up the stuffing in all good thriller/suspense stories. And threats came in many sizes and many guises. (Sorry about the rhyme – couldn’t resist!)
When I am putting together a plot one of the first things I think about is what is the threat (or potential threat) and who it’s to. I once thought that all thrillers have to have a big threat – i.e. the end of the world, Armageddon or extinction of the whole human race but having read many of those kinds of books I have realised that a massive threat does not, on it’s own, make a good plot.
What makes a good plot work, for me, is strong emotion and high stakes. For example a man who stands to lose his entire family - who mean the world to him - if he doesn’t overcome what is threatening him is, in my book, a big threat story. If, on the other hand, he is about to lose his job, that might be tragic for him but not necessarily a big thing for a reader to worry about and be emotionally invested in. But if losing his job meant he couldn’t pay his creditors and they were threatening to harm his wife and children then that would raise the stakes and readers would be concerned and worry about that.
Empathising with fellow human beings is the vital ingredient that allows readers to care deeply about what happens to a character and keep them reading to the rewarding (hopefully) end.
So big threats it must always be but only in terms of emotional effect and empathy. However, if a plot to blow up the entire world is foiled along the way, so be it!
So what do you think? Do big threats figure in your stories? Or do you think otherwise – I’d love to hear, if so…


  1. Before I wrote THE MIGHTY T, when searching for a plot, I thought it had to be huge like your end-of-the-world example. Huge plot > huge story > huge readership > huge sales. I think I succeed (what writer doesn't?) but then realized most plots used by one of my favorite authors, John Sandford, feature everyday emotions, usually greed or lust.

    Books with both grandiose and simple plots can be good if the writing is good and the characters are interesting.

  2. I think it all depends on the genre. For thriller or adventure or action, big threat is a huge must! For less plot-driven stories, the threat still needs to be huge, but it doesn't need to be huge for as many people. Mostly just the MCs.

  3. Definitely. Big threats are important in thrillers and adventure. I think it differs in other genres.

    BTW, I nominated this blog with the Versatile Blogger Award.