Sunday, February 19, 2017

Old-Fashioned Thrills & Chills by Stuart R. West

Click here to find out about Stuart R. Wests books.

As a thriller writer in the 21st century, several things gum me up. Like a bug caught in a fly-strip, though, I keep struggling, fluttering my wings over the keyboard.

Technology has stomped on good ol’-fashioned thrills and chills. Edge of the seat, run for your life suspense sequences have morphed into guys looking at computer screens. Bah. If I desired that as entertainment, I would’ve never left the corporate sector. (There is one minor plus, though: in books, you don’t smell the “cubicle odor.”)

I liked the old thrillers when finding a phone booth and a quarter qualified as a life-saver. Nowadays, characters stop at Starbucks, get their java on, plug in, and cybernetically—magically!—find whatever they want. Computers and the “geeks” who wizard over them pull off a seemingly endless stream of deus ex machina. There’s always a guy who can “hack” into any database.  Always. In nanoseconds! Like on all of those TV police procedurals where the stereotypical “goth” girl pulls up information on anybody with hi-tech equipment dreamed up in some writer’s head.

Having said that, I, too, have used “that guy” in my suspense series, Killers Incorporated. These days, it’s hard to ignore technology. But I generally strive to take the road less traveled, working hard to earn my thrills the old school route. Lots of chases, brawls, explosions, double-crosses, unsavory characters, etc. And yes, there’s still “that guy” when I get stumped on a plot point.

I try not to use “that guy” too much. As a writer, he makes me lazy. Predictable. Ultimately boring.
Sigh. But nowadays “that guy” is an unfortunate necessary evil.
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Another change I’ve noticed in thrillers is a heavy reliance on psychology. Back in the day, thriller writers never offered reasons why jerks threw wheelchair-bound old ladies downstairs. They just did it. Gleefully so. No reader really lost sleep over the reason behind it either. The villain just epitomized evil and that was good enough for an earlier, starkly good-or-evil (innocent in a way) era.
These days, readers want “motivation.” Background. Why are the villains evil? 

I dunno, ask my high school bullies. They never offered any reasons for their behavior. But it was always painfully clear who to run from.

Is it pure coincidence that the first four letters of “analysis” are “anal?” I think not. Freud, I’m looking at you. Regardless, nowadays more sophisticated thriller readers demand reasons behind villains’ psychotic behavior. Back stories involving horrible bed-wetting, whatever. Fine, I’ll cop to supplying background motivation to most of my serial killers in the Killers Incorporated trilogy. Except it takes out some of the mystique, the fun of their villainy. That’s why I never delve into “The Man with the Shoebox’s” past. Some things are better off left unstated and he’s one of my favorite characters for it (Just what is in his shoebox anyway?).

Today’s thriller readers like the world of high-tech espionage, populated with rooms full of spies punching buttons and breaking into covert databases. Me? I still prefer heroes who punch faces and physically break into evil corporations’ headquarters. That’s the Killers Incorporated trilogy, an ode to good ol’ fashioned thrills and chills, topped with a dose of sardonic black humor.
One click away from finding out how the action-packed saga concludes!