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…
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
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 BarbaraKyle.com.
Any books or films you’ve enjoyed that tackle a deeper issue?
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