Wednesday, November 17, 2010
This turned out to be a long entry so Thriller Guy is going to break it up into two. He'll be putting the other half up in a few days.
TG has spoken many times about the difficulties in coming up with great plot ideas. Oh, how many times have the Little Ones gathered at his knee and pleaded, (pled?) “Oh, TG, tell us your secret, how can we too come up with killer plot ideas?” Constant readers of TG's thoughts know that he is a big fan of Gin when it comes this question, and he ascribes to the Four Bs of Creative Cognition – that's Bed, Bath, Beach and Bus – which are great places for ideas to suddenly spring into one's head. Don't forget to keep that notebook somewhere close so when brilliance strikes in the middle of the night you can get up and write your brainstorms down. If any of you pros out there would like to share your secrets vis-a-vis plot concoction, send them in and Thriller Guy will post them for the edification of us all.
TG reads a ton of books, and most of them are running through the same old plots, mash-ups and ripoffs. As he pointed out in last week's entry, he is heartily sick of Da Vinci Code imitators and all their secret codes and other paraphernalia. TG understands that there is a solid core of readers who love this sub genre and he is happy to point them to the best (and warn them away from the worst) of this material, because that's TG's job, but personally, he's mighty tired of these books. Most of the military adventure genre are still cranking out copies of Tom Clancy and Larry Bond, although the spy books are being refreshed by a new bunch of British writers who are using terrific writing to reestablish themselves as the heirs to not only le Carre (though le Carre is still writing beautifully) but all the other classic espionage guys.
But instead of continuing to rail against the paucity of today's plots, TG is going to reprise an old plot and give you some new ones he likes over the last year's reading.
Clive Cussler used to be the master of the over-the-top, bizarro plot. He's still cranking them out (plots, that is) but back in the day when he was probably still actually writing his own books he really stretched the limits of credulity, even when most readers are/were happy to suspend their disbelief. Take for example, the plot of Cussler's 1992 Sahara. Click here if you really want a long Wikipedia dissection of this complicated plot, but let TG summarize...
It's 1865 and the Confederate ship CSS Texas takes on a special prisoner and fights her way out through a Union blockade. Flash forward to 1931 when Kitty Mannock is flying over the Sahara in an attempt to set a new aviation record. She crashes into the dessert and records in her diary finding an “odd ship in the sand.” Enter Cussler hero Dirk Pitt (still going strong today) who is in Egypt searching for the source of a strange pollutant that is causing an overgrowth of red tide that, dare we say it, threatens the existence of the world. Much mayhem ensues as Dirk is taken captive, escapes, taken captive again, escapes again, builds a wind powered sand yacht out of pieces of Mannock's airplane, then...
OK, TG is too tired to go on. Suffice it to say that it turns out that Abraham Lincoln is the prisoner on the CSS Texas and he and the ship itself have ended up in the desert. That guy who got shot in Ford's Theatre? That was an actor who was hired by Edwin M. Stanton.
The point is, it's one hell of a plot. It must taken a serious amount of gin to come up with it. Crazy? Lincoln captured by the south and the ship carrying him away ends up in the Sahara desert? Totally whacky. But Cussler pulls it off because he's not afraid to plunge ahead in the face of believability through sheer balls and a story that refuses to slow down. Could you pull off like this today? Hard to say. Maybe. TG is happy to read what you come up with.
Next up: More about Cussler and his son and co-writer Dirk Cussler (yes, he named his kid after his series hero) and three new plots TG thinks are pretty cool.