Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Superman is real

Dystel and Goderich on their blog asked for men to put what they want to see more of or less of in books now. I responded that I was sick of the "super-soldier who can run through a shower of bullets and only get a flesh wound while trying to local some missing artifact that will prevent a disaster from some ancient civilization" plot line. This needs to be elaborated on.

First off, I love thrillers. I love adventure. I love quests. But, please don't make the hero unbelievable.

Jack Bauer has gone through eight days in which he has been nearly killed about a billion times. James Rollins, Matthew Reilly and about a hundred other writers have created "super soldiers" who can not only run through a blazing firefight in which a quadrillion (yes, I said it, a quadrillion) bullets fly through the air, but also fail to get hit by any piece of those bullets and never mess up their chances to save the day at the end. The guy on Fox's "Human Target" not only protects everyone he meets, but also never had a bad hair day doing it. Where's the freaking reality???

I've met guys who were, and are, in the US military's Special Forces. I've even met a guy who was in the British SAS, which stands for Special Air Services but the only thing they have to do with planes is that they occasionally have to jump out of them. I even count as an email friend a private military contractor who isn't allowed to use his real name. These men are not Jack Bauer, they aren't "super" soldiers in the way modern writers portray them. What they are is far less flashy, but light years more interesting if you ask me. They are dedicated, patriotic, and loyal to a fault.

Why can't we write people like that into our thriller, suspense and action/adventure stories? Why must our heroes always be "larger than life" in an unreal sense? Is "larger than life" in the sense that they are faithful to their buddies, their wives and their country too small for readers and writers? Do we actually only want to read something that's so obviously fake?

Some people call it willful suspension of disbelief. Well, judging from what's on bookshelves and TV right now, there's nothing willful about it. Seems to me that it's the norm. And that's sad.

Here's an exercise for all of us: make your hero more believable and see what happens. If we keep getting rejections, then perhaps this whole post was a waste of time. But, I'm hoping we can change the genre for the better.

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