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CONVENTIONS OF SPYING > Does realism sometimes detract from the plot?

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message 1: by Samuel , Director (new)

Samuel  | 4692 comments Mod
For the inaugural discussion, we'll be discussing the topic of realism in thrillers.
Tom Clancy and Fredrick Forsyth created modern thrillers with a sense of realism and sold millions of books as a result. But does realism sometimes have its downsides when making people excited and hooked to read a book? Does realism sometimes make a book boring if not used correctly? Curious to hear thoughts.

message 2: by Bob (new)

Bob Mayer (bob_mayer) | 1 comments Hunt for Red October was relatively realistic given it was based on a real event and Clancy lived in Annapolis and had access to classified info. Past that though, his books have gone further and further from reality, especially as he portrays Special Operations Forces. He might buy into the dog and pony shows the military presents for him, but as a former insurance salesman, he has no clue what the reality is.

So, yes, in a way, reality detracts. A real mission is 99% boredom, 1% terror. No one wants to read 99% boredom. Few thriller writers have a military background these days, never mind a Spec Ops background. So no matter how much research they do, they can't truly understand the essence. One key was that preparation was, by far, the biggest part of the mission, but writing page after page of preparations is also boring.

message 3: by Tom (new)

Tom Barber | 2 comments IMO, realism is important in a good thriller but it shouldn't subdue the imagination of the writer. Pages and pages of 'research' regurgitated from Google doesn't do anything for a reader save give him papercuts from skipping Chapters.

It's a lot like the movie 'Alien'. The reason it's so effective is because of how realistic and down to earth the characters inside the Nostromo are when we first meet them. When the critter comes bursting out of John Hurt's chest, the sense of realism has already been established, and that makes it all the more scary.

Realism is an anchor for the ship, but the chain should have some slack ;)

P.S: Good discussion Sam; thanks for the invite

message 4: by Samuel , Director (last edited Sep 03, 2013 01:12AM) (new)

Samuel  | 4692 comments Mod
"Readers sometimes comment on the realism of my novels. But I don’t aspire to realism. I want, instead, the illusion of realism".- Alex Berenson, author of The Faithful Spy

Thank you Tom and you sum up the perils of too much research very well. Bob, you raise a most interesting point about Clancy's quality, a future discussion topic now that he's using collaborator authors. You're also dead on the mark about how reality detracts from a plot. Books such as Andy Mcnab's Liberation Day are highly realistic, but with many quiet and tedious moments as a result.

message 5: by Roger (new)

Roger Weston | 20 comments Hi Bob,
You bring up a great point about how people are more interested in entertainment than reality, and I agree. However, I can think of at least one exception. The Eiger Sanction has a long preparation sequence that kept me entertained. Can anyone name others that they enjoyed?

message 6: by Samuel , Director (last edited Sep 03, 2013 01:12AM) (new)

Samuel  | 4692 comments Mod
The Day Of The Jackal, The Dogs Of War and The Devil's Alternative are built around the preparation sequences and are all the better for it. Jackal is classic because apart from the preparation, it throws in a manhunt and a touch of historical fiction so we don't get too bored.

message 7: by Jack (new)

Jack (jackjuly) | 145 comments It depends on the Novel. As my Graddaddy said about my pathological liar Uncle, "he don't let the truth get in the way of a good story" That being said, It is critical to be accurate using places, occupations, cars boats bikes, military ranks and schools, etc. Because people that are reading my book may come from that described discipline or have knowledge about a place or a thing. Nothing pisses me off more than, as a person from naval Aviation, have an author describe my planes or weapon systems inaccurately. I will consider that author ignorant and lazy then stop reading the book. Clancy described things I was very familiar with and it made me feel smart and special. It made me want to keep reading. It's a fine line, Not talking down to our readers and treating them like idiots while at the same time using plain language to keep from talking over their heads. An author who has that ability is very special indeed.

message 8: by Samuel , Director (new)

Samuel  | 4692 comments Mod
Group member peter nealen wrote an article about this issue this year. check it out. https://americanpraetorians.wordpress...

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