Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Black Death and Other Nasties

E – Epidemic

Natural disasters and man-made ones make for brilliant thriller reads, I find. The age-old ‘race against time’ to save innocent lives and – occasionally - the whole human race is the ultimate in ‘edge of the seat’ drama if done well.
Some of the best stories I have come across in the genre of thrillers, involve the use of the word ‘epidemic’. To most people this word is scary as it is the world of science gone wrong and nasty things happening to unsuspecting people. But I suspect the scary part is more about our lack of control over such tiny (usually unseen) microorganisms that can and do kill us indiscriminately.
We can easily imagine catching a nasty disease and the thought that something can spread like wildfire and wipe out an entire population – well, we know in our heart of hearts that it could just happen…
To add to the tension and drama there is usually a time element to these stories and so it is not so difficult to build in a page turning tension. A sceptic (often a politician) who does not take the threat seriously is generally built in to provide the opposition to the main character and - voila – a readymade thriller plot!
I don’t mean to sound as if this is so easy but there is definitely a theme to these stories, and we all know it, but it doesn’t seem to stop readers wanting these kinds of stories.
I love these books and I have used the motif in my own novels a little. My latest thriller (unpublished as yet) does have a plot strand where a type of plague is released into a small community.
Have you considered using an epidemic ( or the threat of one) to heighten tension and create extra conflict? Have you read a great book/story using an epidemic?


  1. The best use of an epidemic in fiction is Stephen King's "The Stand." One of his best books, in my opinion, and likely the best adaptation for the screen. I thought it was Rob Lowe's best performance.

  2. I've not used an epidemic because I don't usually write anything dark enough to warrant it. Have read about them though. One that Springs to mind is Andy McNab's Dark Winter.

  3. I haven't really thought about using that as a plot element, but every time we learn about the plague in class or one of those movies comes out (like last summer's Contagion) I get chills thinking that that kind of thing could really happen again. Ahhh!

  4. Enjoyed your post, thank you. Definitely a great way for extra conflict and an exciting read. I've been wanting to read another Stephen King book - will be looking out for 'The Stand' as suggested by Everett. :-)

  5. I love stories like this, although of course I spend hours afterwards thinking 'what if...'.

  6. I've never written about an epidemic. Maybe one day.

  7. I love them! I haven't used an epidemic exactly, but pretty close. Mine has a deadly disease for which they have the cure, but then the cure is put in jeopardy. Great post!

  8. I read a book by Brian L Porter about an epidemic. However, I haven't ever written about it myself.

    Thank you for the birthday wishes.

  9. Thank you everyone for your comments.