Actions, Consequences, Causation, and Thrills
Back when I participated in role-playing games more frequently (enough so I was the world's top-ranked player of classic RPGA tournaments for about fifteen years), one of the things I and my gaming friends would often say when somebody did something unexpected was "actions have consequences." Those consequences could be bad, but they also could be good--maybe the result of a heroic sacrifice or clever planning. Sometimes the consequences might not be intuitive or obvious, but as long as they were logical, that was always fine by me.
In fact, some of the adventures I disliked the most were ones where misguided GMs prevented actions from having logical consequences in an effort to keep a PC alive or steer the party where he or she wanted the party to go. You see, one of the things I like about most role-playing games is that actions do have consequences. In the real world, actions don't always have consequences--or at least the logical consequences they should have. Instead of the "evolution in action" of the Darwin Awards, people who make foolish decisions are protected from the consequences of those decisions. And that often leads to consequences on society. All too often people--especially those who think there are very simple solutions to very complex problems--forget that there can be consequences from actions and laws that are not what was intended or not even intuitively obvious.
Not only may those consequences be remote (Yes, John Helfers, I once again bring up the impact of the Old World's importation of the potato from the Americas as an indirect cause of World War I), they can result in good intentions being twisted for bad effects. Pretty much everything that can be gamed, will be gamed.
All of this, as well as my experience as a debater in college and as a debate coach in law school, focused a lot of thought about causation. That I later owned a company that produced a time travel role-playing game and wrote adventures for it, just reinforced the importance of causation in my mind. I think it's fair to say that a lot of my writing reflects that, from my non-fiction chapter on the topic in Eighth Day Genesis: A Worldbuilding Codex for Writers and Creatives, to several stories about time running backwards (from our perspective) in "Knowing She Would" in Tales Out of Time and "For Every Time, A Season" in Time Traveled Tales, and my various thriller novels, including Forced Conversion, which deals with the consequences to those remaining on a largely de-populated Earth after most of humanity has converted to virtual reality, and Net Impact, which deals with what rapid developments in cyberspace, MMORPGs, and virtual worlds mean for law enforcement and world security concerns.
Actions having consequences is, of course, what most thrillers are all about. Bad guys are doing bad things for their own nefarious purposes, but some guy or gal or group can, with enough effort and sacrifice, do what is necessary to stop them and save the day. The various obstacles to success are what provides tension and suspense, rather than mere action, driving the tale forward.
Part of that suspense arises from mysteries to be solved: What are the bad guys doing? Why? What will be the result of their plan? How can the plan be stopped? How can these obstacles to stopping the plan be overcome? What is the cost, in pain, emotional upheaval, loss, and life, of thwarting the plan?
But, I submit, one of the other aspects of that tension and suspense, the part that makes it thrilling, is the credibility of the situation. That the bad things happening in the story really could happen or are logical extensions from things that have happened inherently raises the stakes. That it is not obvious how those things can be stopped in a credible way drives suspense. This is, in essence, why superhero, battling monsters, and giant robot movies are "action" movies, not true thrillers. It's why the soft middle section in the pantheon of James Bond movies is widely panned--because giant (yet secret) underground lairs and superhuman henchmen with razor teeth have no inherent credibility.
Sure, I like fantasy and science fiction as much as the next guy--probably more, since the next guy often hasn't read a book since he graduated high school. But the best worlds are worlds that make sense to me at some core level, either because they are derived by extension from the real world or the world-building makes sense and operates within a logical framework. Like many teenagers of my generation, I devoured The Lord of the Rings, but it still bothers me to this day that the supply and, dare I say it, sanitary facilities, for the armies in Mordor made no friggin' sense at all. (Compare the awesome world-building in Elizabeth Vaughan's Warprize series, where the customs of the Plainsmen derive quite logically from their circumstances.)
It's a tough balance for an author--putting in enough explanation to make what happens real or at least real enough to satisfy the reader, without bogging down the action with a lot of backstory. Every author has their own recipe for how to cook up a thriller and every reader has their own taste as to how they like their portion cooked up. I'm sure I focus a bit more on causation than some others, but I hope you feel my take adds flavor that you can savor.
Right now, Forced Conversion is part of a bundle of pulse-pounder thrillers and I'm proud to have it included with fast-paced thrillers from such authors as Kevin J. Anderson, Jonathan Maberry, Jean Rabe, Jeffrey J. Mariotte, Mike Baron, Dean Wesley Smith, and more. They'll not only satisfy your craving for action, they'll satisfy your craving for thrills.
You can find the Pulse-Pounder StoryBundle at www.storybundle.com/thriller. I hope you'll take a look. And, if you know a reviewer you think might be interested in some or all of the books included in the bundle, drop me an email or a comment about them.
Donald J. Bingle, Writer on Demand TM www.donaldjbingle.com