Suspense Thriller Romance: Demands an epic, heroic hero!

Suspense Thriller Romance: Demands an epic, heroic hero!

Okay, you have your killer premise outlined, now what? (If you haven't read our previous blog on creating the killer premise, click HERE before or after you read these choice observations gleaned over 30+ years of trial and error from your truly!

The Protagonist—that’s the hero or heroine—needs to be heroic. Epically heroic! That is the next critical step in crafting an engaging, potentially bestselling, movie optioned romantic suspense thriller. (That's my plan!) But what’s heroic about a know-it-all Nancy Drew who outshines everyone else 100% of the time? Nothing!

I cringed at Nancy's expert antics in grade school, long before Facebook, Instagram, Tiktok, or LinkedIn came into existence. I'd have raised a stink on social media otherwise, putting out feelers on Craigs List if only to find like-minded readers, but that's another story. Suffice to say that nobody wants to read about people we’d avoid in person because we may well entertain criminal thoughts in their presence. 

Translated: Scarlett Johanssen, Carmen Electra, Megan Fox, and Gwenyth Paltrow, please do not apply, unless you're willing to portray a seriously flawed character. struggling despite herself to do that which is right for those who otherwise cannot protect or defend themselves.  That said, Scarlett Johanssen is the exception in this line-up. She makes an excellent Black Widow in the Avengers franchise and now that I think on it, Angelina Jolie who may otherwise get miscast as eye candy, combines both beauty and grit in films like Salt, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, and an underrated, slow burning 2010 film with Johnny Depp called The Tourist, although my assessment may be skewed because of my Johnny Depp crush. Some things never die. Feel free to count that as a flaw. I do.

But the same criteria hold true for male leads. Bradd Pitt, at least for me, came into his stride in a film with a name that some may find offensive. I sure do. Inglorious Basterds--not misspelled--a stylized, Quentin Tarrentino, WWII film debuted in 2009. Pitt's portrayal is admittedly over-the-top when it comes to violence and other attributes I'd never include in my own stories. Pitt would be considered an anti-hero in this film, a discussion for another blog. The point is, Pitt shed his metaphorical baby fat in 2009. He relied not on his looks but on a seriously driven character with a mission to right wrongs or at least end the carnage of a select few--sadistic Nazis in this case.

So, while you could study the characters above, I'd recommend selecting a dear friend, as a role model instead, someone you know who is flawed but trying. Flawed but not trying...yet. Flawed but…. get the idea? A protagonist is someone the reader can root for, unless one is purposefully exploring the darker side of reader’s tastes by engaging the anti-hero model as mentioned above. (Think sympathy for the devil. Some may go there, but not me, not to that extent. There is no redemption for the truly demonic, but I do enjoy plumbing the darker side of human nature that we too often deny. One must grasp a problem, any problem, before it can be fixed, even in a novel.)

    Even the most shining protagonist needs a shadow-self that he or she prefers to stay hidden. Now, this is where friendship ends. The job of a suspense writer is to expose the hero and heroine's weaknesses and/or wounds mercilessly, so leave off any thought of friends at this stage. We want our characters to show growth by choice or circumstance because it makes good reading. The job of the writer is to feed and water latent qualities of mercy, compassion, loyalty, self-sacrifice, and all those attributes found in saint stories that are written from an autobiographical point of view. Sugar coated tales that pretend saints are forged in the absence of trials, doubts, and serious falls ring false and turn discerning readers off. Who wants to read about a hero who is someone we could never hope to be ourselves, like ever? Not me. 

    Knowing one's own shortfall & fears yet forging ahead anyway is what makes a hero, not blind confidence in one's super-human abilities. Such a character would, however, fit in a farcical satire of the suspense thriller genre. I loved Maxwell Smart, the titular character in GET SMART who entertained cold-war era kids by taking the edge off otherwise scary times. Do you recall those duck and cover drills? Air raid siren tests and those of the Emergency Broadcast System used to creep the bejeebies out of me. 

    I mulled over South American gorillas or days after an onerous newscast that came over my family's humongous console TV/Stereo. I did much the same with cakes in rain while listening intently to Richard Harris' haunting & superior rendition of McArthur's Park. But seriously, what was so insidious about gorillas in the jungle? Why was the radio announcer using a baritone voice intended to jar me? I get it now. Guerillas are what he was talking about, and assorted juntas were popping up all over Columbia. (We can talk locations later!)

    The message here is to give your hero or heroine or both, depending upon your choices for your book, fleshed out lives that go beyond looks. That's the least important factor in a gripping story and yet, as evidenced by names already mentioned, externals often override whatever narrative is being presented. And that's okay for some stories if the idea is pure fluff, but not for a gripping, satisfying romantic suspense thriller. A mental analysis of your hero or heroine is especially necessary when crafting the increasingly popular psychological thriller that can take place in a small town, a bustling city, or anywhere across the globe. 

    Human beings are human beings so, to create the truly, epically heroic hero, make your character like yourself where it counts: fears, wants, doubts, love, family ties, outrageous aspirations, etc. Do that and your character will resonate with a fellow human who can better imagine themselves as your hero or heroine and draw deeply on whatever underlying message you have set in place. But that message is another topic we'll canvass later.

    Until then, please check out these free, clean suspense reads while they're available. Just click the links and take your pick! Choice is where it's at:




    Until next time, stay safe, be kind to yourself & others, and have FUN!

    Ann :^)