There are 5 deadlines, or ticking clocks, that consistently show up in bestselling novels.
In the last post, we talked about the Story Deadline. If you haven’t read that one, I strongly encourage you to go check it out. Today, I’d like to focus on another deadline common in bestsellers – the Resource Deadline.
Before we dive in, here’s a quick review of all 5 Deadlines:
5 Deadlines That Show Up in Every Bestseller
- Story Deadline
- Resource Deadline
- Character Deadline (life and death)
- Chase Deadline
- Disaster Deadline
Ok, now back to the Resource Deadline. Like all deadlines, the Resource Deadline consists of a time limit (the deadline) and consequences (threat to the character, goal, story). Both elements must be present to maximize reader impact. While the Resource Deadline can be blended with the overall story deadline to encompass the entire narrative, this deadline (as with the other remaining three deadlines – Character, chase and disaster) is a highly versatile tool that can be used temporarily in smaller segments throughout the story.
A quick definition: A Resource Deadline is when some element of help or support for a character ends at a predetermined time.
Resources can be food, water, medicine as in the Hunger Games. There are only so many weapons. If you don’t grab them quickly once the “games” start, you become an easier target. Again, notice the time limit ( only a few minutes) and severe consequences when the resource runs out (you might get killed easily). This type of resource is also present in The Road and many other bestsellers.
Resources can also be weapons (i.e., arrows or bullets). When the arrows or bullets (or cannon balls – that would be fun), run out, characters are left defenseless (or at least weaker) against an enemy. This form of resource plays out in nearly every thriller and many mystery novels (not to mention fantasy, science-fiction, etc). Think Rambo, Star Wars, Die Hard, Jason Bourne series, Hunger Games, and so many more.
Resources can be items or objects. One of my favorite examples of this type of resource is the ring in Lord of The Rings. Everyone wants it – they will (and do) kill to get it and to keep it. It is the ultimate limit – there is only one like it. The story revolves around the ring. The ring is special because it serves as multiple deadlines, or ticking clocks. First, it is limited and everyone wants it. Second, it takes control of and changes those who get too close to it. Readers know and anticipate the change in character and the inevitable conflicts (consequences).
Resources can also be opportunities. In Divergent, there are only so many available slots in the Dauntless faction. The protagonist, Beatrice, who changes her name to Tris, must compete against others in mental, emotional and physical challenges to get one of the limited slots. The consequence for not making the grade? Isolation and abandonment from all factions (basically you become a societal outcast that doesn’t fit in anywhere). Thus, a limited resource plus dire consequences.
While there are other types of resources, these are some of the most common ones in many bestselling novels and blockbuster movies. Note that characters are often aware of the limited resources and of the consequences of running out of the resources. However, in other stories, characters blindly dwindle a resource without awareness of either the limit or the impending threat. The important point is that the readers must know so that they can care, feel, worry and dread the characters facing the looming threat.