Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Dastardly Disasters of Epidemic Proportions

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 indiscriminateWe 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 My latest thriller (unpublished as yet) does have a plot strand where a type of plague is released into a small community.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. I was just discussing a variation of this idea yesterday with a friend. Anagonists don't always have to be people; they can be disasters.

  2. I haven't, but I'll keep this in mind. I need my villainess to do something superbad in my second book in the Champion trilogy, and I didn't have that nailed down yet -she just ran around reacting to things in my rough draft which doesn't make her much of a villainess. I'm not up for revision for it yet but here goes making a note - epidemic possiblities.

  3. I haven't but only because it doesn't fit with any of my plots. I do know they seem to attract readers and the movies do well. So... maybe I need to rethink this idea.

  4. I love epidemic books, especially when a plague breaks out. I don't use that much in my plots yet but I think it would be fascinating to have one of my characters face such a thing.

  5. King's "The Stand" is one of the few novels I've read more than once. And the TV miniseries rocked, I thought.

  6. I've not used an edpidemic as I don't write thrillers, but I have read stories using this deice very effectively. One story I remember was Dark Winter by Andy McNabb.

  7. I agree! In fact I got excited reading your post about what makes thrillers exciting ;)

  8. I love thrillers, but I can't write them. I just sit on the sidelines and enjoy the works of those who can.

  9. One of the first stories I wrote had an epidemic. It was a great way of making things worse for my poor characters ;)

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  11. I do like to work with tension... but i can't say I've used something so huge in my stories.