By Iola GoultonRonald Tobias distinguishes between plots of the body and plots of the mind, and action plots are plots of the body. They are focused on providing suspense, surprise and fulfilling expectation, and the main character doesn’t necessarily change and grow as an individual (think James Bond or Jack Reacher).
MysteryThe essence of a mystery novel is that there is a mystery to be solved, usually a murder. The reader is introduced to a small group of characters in the beginning of the novel, one of whom becomes the detective, one (or more) the victim, and one the murderer. Writing a good mystery requires a significant level of skill: the reader shouldn’t be able to easily identify the murderer, but there should be a logic to the plot so the reader says, ‘of course!’ when the culprit is revealed at the end (as they always are).
Cozy mysteries are popular, and generally feature a bloodless off-stage murder, little sex, violence or profanity, and a female amateur investigator (with Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple being a classic example). Other sub-genres include hard-boiled (featuring the classic male detective), and police procedural (which might investigate several related crimes, and where the reader may know who the criminal is, in which case part of the suspense comes from wanting the police to catch the criminal before another crime is committed).
Fans of classic detective fiction will want to read Rules of Murder by debut author Julianna Deering. Other authors writing Christian mysteries include Mindy Starns Clark (cozy), Stephen James and J Mark Bertrand (police procedural).
ThrillerIf a thriller does not thrill, if it doesn’t give readers an adrenaline rush, it’s not a thriller. (Steven James)
A thriller is usually some kind of chase to find a criminal (such as a kidnapper or murderer), often before they commit another crime. These are the books that keep you awake at night—because you have to finish them before you can sleep, just in case the unthinkable happens and a major character is killed (it does happen. Not often, but it does happen). Prominent Christian thriller authors include Alton Gansky, Steven James, Creston Mapes, Robert Whitmore and Liz Wiehl.
Medical ThrillerMedical thrillers are usually centred in or around a hospital, and involve some kind of threat or crisis, whether medical or physical. Christian authors writing in this sub-genre include Hannah Alexander, Candace Calvert, Jordyn Redwood, and Richard Mabry.
Legal ThrillerThe protagonist is usually a crusading lawyer out to prove a client innocent, or investigating a corrupt organisation or system. The legal system is a vital component, and the ring of authenticity is important to the reader—there is no room for factual errors in a legal thriller. Christian authors writing in this genre include James Scott Bell, Pamela Binnings Ewen, and Randy Singer.
CrimeCrime novels, in contrast, are usually from the point of view of the criminal. As such, there is little in the way of Christian crime fiction (although a thriller or romantic suspense novel may well include the criminal as a viewpoint character).
SpeculativeIn Christian fiction, speculative or visionary fiction includes some aspect of the supernatural, and this may or may not be biblically accurate (which can cause problems). While the plot is a thriller, it also requires a degree of worldbuilding, which will be discussed in the next post.
Based on these examples, you’d be forgiven for assuming that almost all thriller authors are men (one of the female names listed above, Hannah Alexander, is actually the pseudonym for a husband and wife writing team). I think that's true. Women make up more than 80% of the membership of writing organisations such as ACFW, and probably a similar proportion of fiction readers. Authors targeting the female reader are more likely to combine an action plot with a romance plot (romantic suspense), and are more likely to be women. Personally, I find many male authors emphasise action at the expense of the character relationships.
Do you write action or adventure? How do you describe what you write? What do you feel are the essential ingredients in an action novel?
I am a freelance editor specialising in Christian fiction, and you can find out more about my services at my website, or follow me on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. I love reading, and read and review around 150 Christian books each year on my blog.