4 Story Archetypes That Are Strangling the Action Genre–A Guest Post by Logan
I’m a huge fan of action. You might say I’m a junkie. I read it, I watch it, I talk about it, I write it, and sometimes, when I’m feeling especially delusional, I even fantasize that I live it (racing a four-cylinder counts, right?).
To me, action in a story is a lot more than just gunsmoke. Good action is a portal. It takes us into the soul of humanity and reveals the human struggle on a level that drama and conversation simply can’t. Action isn’t about crashing planes and exploding yachts. Real action is the nuclear charge that amplifies the core conflict of a story and highlights the differences between good and evil like a neon sign.
It’s horrific, to say the least, that such a powerful device is so chronically sick. But sick it is, and the cancer in question has a fancy Latin name called cliché. Dudes, cliché is killing our action!
Here are four classic-now-clichéd story models that need to die right now. Sometimes you can patch up the bullet wound, and sometimes you just have to amputate the leg. In the case of the following five offenders, it’s time to whack off the leg.
The Avenging Thief.
That age-old plot about the thief (who usually only steals from “people who can afford it”) whose band of crooks turn on him (traditionally after their best heist) and leave him for dead (sometimes literally). He survives, and months later he comes back to wreck their lives, steal back the money, land them in prison and sail off into the sunset (with a hot blonde, obviously). Classics such as The Italian Job (Mark Wahlberg), Stolen (Nicholas Cage) or Parker (Jason Statham) are perfect examples of the cliché I’m talking about.
The Avenging Father.
Or husband. Or boyfriend. Or whatever. We’re talking about the ex-cop/secret agent whose family/girlfriend is brutally murdered/raped/kidnapped and, because our hero is a raging bull of terrifying lethality, he sets off on a rampage of carnage and bloodshed in the interest of either rescuing or avenging them. A few obvious suspects are The Punisher (Thomas Jane), Rage (Nicolas Cage), Three Days to Killer (Kevin Costner) and the Taken series (Liam Neeson). While the adoring boyfriend inside of me is certainly spoken to by the unleashed wrath of avenging love, in my opinion this cliché is one of the most poisonous on the market. It’s painfully unrealistic and it really needs to be buried.
The Lone Wolf.
This cliché dates back to the very oldest of American films, and was especially popular in western dramas. The plot is simple and usually runs something like this: some highly skilled tough-guy/girl (usually an ex-cop/special agent) is a lone wolf who wanders through society with no home, no friends and no family. He is clouded in mystery and always has some kind of dark, violent past which has shaped him into this brutal recluse. Nobody understands him. But when the world is at its darkest point, Tom Cruise—*cough* I mean this unnamed character—always appears just in time to kill a bunch of people, wreck a bunch of ‘70s muscle cars, save the hot blonde, and then disappear again. Until the next world disaster of course. Jack Reacher (Tom Cruise), Shooter (Mark Wahlberg) and pretty much every film starring Jason Statham are all examples.
The Gang’s In Town!
Instead of being dominated by a single butt-kicking action star, this plot type is dominated by several butt-kicking actions stars in the form of a butt-kicking action gang. There’s always the fabulous four:
(1) The computer nerd who can hack any computer network under the sun;
(2) The hot n’ sassy chick who is witty and a total master at every form of martial arts known to man;
(3) The faultlessly loyal, double-Glock wielding side-kick who always wears black;
(4) The brilliant underwear model who runs the whole gang, commands their absolute loyalty and executes flawless heists and world saving operations.
While movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, the Mission Impossible series or the GI Joe series have been enormously popular (I’m an MI fan myself), this story mold is getting stale. I’m sick of seeing the same hipster computer nerd. The same underdressed ninja chick. The same world chaos. The same cars. The same story.
In conclusion, I love all of these plot types. I love most of the movies I’ve mentioned and I’m a diehard fan of Cruise, Wahlberg and Statham. But guys, we need some originality. A fresh spark. So here’s my challenge to you. Instead of being like everybody else and trying to get a fresh spin out of an already rusted and squeaking merry-go-round… why not build your own theme park? It’s harder. But that’s what makes it worth it.
I really believe that if we stopped trying to keep a dying prototype on life support, and instead devoted the same energy into creating something totally new, we might just stumble into a new age of totally awesome action.
It’s time for a new flame, and I really believe the next generation of American writers can ignite that spark.
[Note from Braden: Logan will be returning over the next couple of months with two more articles pointing out some of the cliches plaguing the action genre, and his thoughts on how it can be freshened and improved. Stay tuned!]
Logan Jordan is the author of four novels, with an special interest in mystery, action, thriller and suspense fiction that delves beyond explosions and burning tires and into the deep internal conflicts of his characters’ battle for identity. Logan loves to write stories that send his readers on the same emotional roller-coaster of adventure, heartache and suspense as his characters, and leave them with something to carry away. You can learn more about Logan’s work, along with his upcoming online action drama, Blood & Water, at www.loganjordancole.com, and facebook.com/loganjordancole.