Deep Genre: Taking the Thriller Beyond Cheap Thrills—Author Barbara Kyle

Last week author and story coach Barbara Kyle sent me a supportive email about my novel, Eating Bull, and the uphill publishing battle it’s faced given the controversial subject matter (obesity and the food industry’s role in it). She mentioned she’d written an article on “Deep Genre”: thrillers that dive into complex themes. Since that concept is right up Eating Bull’s alley, it made for a perfect—and rare—guest post for my blog. Take it away, Barbara…

Mikhail Petgrave

Deep Genre: Taking the Thriller Beyond Cheap Thrills

by Barbara Kyle

It’s often said that a good thriller is like a roller coaster ride. That’s true enough. The genre is about high stakes, countdowns, and suspense, and every good thriller delivers this kind of excitement. But the best thrillers deliver more – an exciting story that also explores complex themes. This kind of story has something important to say about our world. It takes the reader away from the amusement park and sends them on a voyage – an exhilarating journey into a different way of thinking.

Call it Deep Genre.

I believe that popular fiction delivers the best way to truly understand crucial issues of our time, because we see those issues brought to life by characters we care deeply about, characters thrown into terrible dilemmas where they are forced to take risks and make choices. Characters who illuminate the gripping question we readers end up asking ourselves: If I were in that situation, what would I do? That’s the job of Deep Genre.

We’re all familiar with the conventions of the genre as a roller coaster ride: the life-and-death stakes; the antagonist making the stakes personal for the hero; the hero at the mercy of the villain, then turning the tables and coming out on top; the false ending. But readers want their expectations reversed. In Deep Genre the author leads the reader into thinking they understand the characters, then the story splits that “comfort zone” open and gives them an insight they never saw coming. “Insight” literally means seeing the truth through and under the surface of things. It’s the novelist’s job to crack open not only readers’ expectations, but also their received wisdom, their acceptance of society’s status quo.

Woody Allen was once asked: Is sex dirty? His answer was: Yes, if you’re doing it right. Is Deep Genre subversive? I say: Yes, if the author is doing it right. Deep Genre is always about fighting Power.

Charles Dickens knew this when he wrote his immensely popular novels to hold a mirror up to the horrors that working class people suffered under unfettered capitalism in nineteenth century London. In our time, bestselling author John Grisham has often done the same with thrillers about the “little guy” finally beating some form of corporate bully. In his The Rainmaker it’s the powerful insurance industry, and in The Street Lawyer it’s mega-developers who force homeless people to their death. Like Dickens, Grisham uses the thriller genre – Deep Genre – to say what needs to be said.

Readers welcome this rich experience. We need it. Because it’s not the roller coaster ride that satisfies the soul. It’s the voyage.

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About Barbara Kyle

b kyle books

Barbara Kyle is the author of ten novels with over 450,000 copies sold in seven countries. Her latest book is The Traitor’s Daughter. Her master classes and manuscript evaluations have launched many writers to published success. Barbara’s “Crafting the Page-Turner” Writers’ Symposium on 17-18 October 2015 will bring top industry professionals to give workshops, seminars, and pitch sessions. For information and to register see

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Any books or films you’ve enjoyed that tackle a deeper issue?

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Rubin4Carrie Rubin is the author of The Seneca Scourgea medical thriller. For full bio, click here.

145 Responses to “Deep Genre: Taking the Thriller Beyond Cheap Thrills—Author Barbara Kyle”

  1. Kourtney Heintz

    I think there are readers who will love deep genre. I know I enjoy it. I also enjoy a quick lighter read too. But I am glad there are different books out there for whatever my reading desires are.


  2. Andrea Stephenson

    One of the things I like about good genre fiction is those stories that do have developed characters and profound questions, without being preachy, so it’s interesting to hear about the concept of ‘deep genre’.


    • Carrie Rubin

      Great point about being preachy. I tried to avoid doing that with my own book, but I suppose it’s a subjective thing to readers. What one person finds preachy, another may not.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Aquileana

    Hi Carrie.
    A very interesting Guest Post… I much enjoyed the way the author proposes us a sort of further Interpretation with regard to thrillers . A twist so as to say, as she states that those types of stories might as well deliver more – [“an exciting story that also explore other topics and most time more complex themes”.]
    I’d say that as afar as different variables of frames of reality pop up, the mission is accomplished. It aims to challenge the reader to “read beyond”, I guess.
    A very clever, thought provoking post. Thanks for sharing and all my best wishes to you. Aquileana 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. reocochran

    People like realism which this deep genre sounds like it will satisfy this interest. I like how you included Dickens since you have that right: he definitely wove reality into his stories making them feel so real snd painful in emotions and settings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carrie Rubin

      I agree. The more real the characters, the more likely we are to be vested in the deeper theme of the novel. Thank you for weighing in. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  5. J.B. Whitmore

    Fine backup for your novel, especially at this point. With so much competition out there, it takes courage to write a book that is more than plot and tension. Thanks for the tips and the guest post.


    • Carrie Rubin

      Thanks for reading. Going deeper requires a little more work on the writer’s part but is worth it, I think.


      • J.B. Whitmore

        Or a lot more, but definitely worth it. Reading a book that takes me for a ride and dumps me back home rather than someplace new is like eating cotton candy. Oo, a little heavy on the metaphors today. Must be the holiday.


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