Someone recently read one of my novels and claimed it had a “full house of Simon Dillon Plot Bingo”. Far from being insulted, I was amused by this. In fact I was rather proud, because it meant I was getting to be known, as an author, for particular subject matters, themes, and plot devices.
Here are ten points this individual claimed would be on a list of “Simon Dillon Plot Bingo” in my novels for grown-ups (especially those novels on my psychological/supernatural thriller/horror spectrum):
Imperilled heroine – These books feature a tenacious, insatiably curious, likeable but flawed heroine, who is dealing with some kind of trauma either in the recent or distant past. Very occasionally I feature a male protagonist (in my as yet unpublished novel Wormcutter, for instance).
Religious Oppression – My protagonists sometimes have a religiously abusive past, or else the issue is relevant in the present.
Big central mystery – Spooky paintings, sinister writing competitions, inexplicable sudden deaths, apparent messages from ghosts, and murderous cover-ups all feature in these narratives.
Haunted locations – Creepy forests, castles, houses, office blocks, are key locations in these stories.
Supernatural elements – Ghosts, demons, witchcraft, astral projection… These are often (but not always) explored.
Hidden labyrinths – Again, these novels frequently include mysterious and sinister secret passages, caves, mazes, closed off wings in mansions, and – in one case – abandoned tube train tunnels.
Cults and/or secret societies – I seem to come back to this trope time and time again. Obscure religious movements and/or clandestine organisations pulling strings behind the scenes are an important part in many of my narratives. Often said organisations are revealed in secret rooms at the heart of the afore-mentioned labyrinths.
Villain/antagonist with similar goals to the protagonist – I am going to explore this point in more detail in a different blog later this month.
Melodramatic overdrive – With gothic horror, I have no shame in dialling up the melodrama when called for, with all the blood, thunder, and passion evident in the greats of the genre.
Big twist ending – This needs no explanation. I love a good twist ending, but only when it comes off as both inevitable and unexpected. It’s no good pulling out the rug from under the reader without laying the necessary groundwork, or it won’t feel satisfying. I don’t always do this (I’ve always maintained there’s a big difference between a twist ending, and an unexpected plot turn) but twist endings can be great fun to write, when they are appropriate.
I’ve also argued in the past that there is a difference between following a formula and being predictable (click here to read more). The former involves giving a reader what they expect, but not the way they expect it. The latter involves giving the reader what they expect exactly the way they expect it, and therefore risking boring them. I hope my novels fall into the former category.
Besides, whatever tropes I recycle, I am fully aware that I explore similar themes (such as religious oppression and abuse of power) again and again in my work. I am in good company, since many famous authors wrote their greatest works around the same theme. For instance, Charles Dickens, whose father was imprisoned for debt, wrote again and again about lost families and fathers.
With that in mind, when reading any of my novels (check out the list here), by all means play Simon Dillon Plot Bingo, and if you can add to the above list, please let me know.