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Posted by on May 15, 2015 in Action, Guest posts | 10 comments

4 Story Archetypes That Are Strangling the Action Genre–A Guest Post by Logan

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!]

 

11125426_1769998959893300_826141841_nLogan 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.

 

10 Comments

  1. Thanks for the poignant thoughts, Logan! Looking forward to having you back soon.

  2. Hum, good points. I recently started on the beginnings of an action story, though it’s still in the baby stage right now, and I win because the plot is not based on any of those! *gives self a pat on the back*

    But I probably shouldn’t get too excited because there is an avenging father character who also happens to fit into the lone wolf category. o_0 Lol.

    Anyways, looking forward to the next installments! This was great.

    • If I may offer my two cents, I think that /elements/ of these story archetypes can be mixed and matched together to construct a unique story. Your lone-wolf avenging father could be a fantastic character, and doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re falling into cliche or stereotype. It’s all in how you handle it!

      • Exactly, Braden. Couldn’t agree more!

    • I agree. I love my lone wolf/ avenging father and he and his back story play an important part in the plot. Not even thinking about changing him. But it is good to keep in mind that you don’t want your character to be a two dimensional copy of every other rugged loner out there. Even my main character, a female, could fit into the gangs in town #2 character type, but she’s not a simple representation of that, and differs in many ways from what one would expect that character to be. So, yeah, good things to keep in mind. 🙂

  3. Wow that was scary XD I have seen all of those characters numerous times. I love action and adventure but I find myself constantly predicting correctly what characters are going to do or say to the point where it’s a little freaky *sighs* The leg needs to go

  4. Good points. My siblings and I love dissecting the multitude of action movies we watch. 🙂 I love the genre- but you’re right, the plot archetypes are getting stale.

    I always thought it would be kind of fun to see an action movie where you’ve got your typical stoic lone-wolf action guy who unintentionally drags an unsuspecting librarian into his chaotic life.. Instead of the girl being some tough, coy, scantily clad woman, she would be just a normal, moderately cheerful person who is surprisingly genre savvy, once she realizes what kind of mess she’s gotten herself into. 🙂

  5. That was a really good post! A great remainder since I’m brainstorming for a new book. I really try not to make my girls tough and perfect but sometimes it can be kinda hard. I hope my next heroine can be a little more interesting and original.

  6. Hello and I agree. With almost everything you say here…
    Firstly, isn´t cliché a fancy French word rather than a fancy Latin one? (Yep, just checked. Definitely French)
    And secondly, isn´t it a bit unfair to criticise The Italian Job when in reality it´s a remake of a film which was made when the genre was relatively new and fresh. Not that I´m in any way forgiving the remake, in every way a dreadful movie, but I doubt its usefulness here as an example of the tired and weary genre.
    You´re right though, if action were a franchise they would have put it to bed a long time ago.

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