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Characteristics of Adventure Fiction


Adventure stories feature physical action and courageous heroes who save others from danger or impending doom. The adventure genre of fiction is fast-paced and usually centers on a protagonist in a dangerous or risky situation. Adventure fiction overlaps other genres, such as romance, spy thrillers, military adventures and Westerns. Science fiction novels always contain elements of adventure.

Action and Excitement

Adventure novels typically have fast-paced, action-packed plot lines. Stories about epic journeys or epic tales -- often involving a mixture of adventure and fantasy -- have slightly slower plot lines that culminate with a thrilling climax or a series of climactic events. Examples include the "Odyssey" by Homer and "Lord of the Rings" by J.R.R. Tolkien. The setting of an adventure story often takes place "elsewhere" and might include maps, intriguing backgrounds and antiquities to help readers understand the tale, says Joyce Saricks in her book "The Readers' Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction."

Courageous Protagonists

Adventure-genre protagonists are traditionally male, but that trend is changing as writers choose brave, assertive females to fit the role. Current examples include Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games" series by Suzanne Collins and Beatrice Prior in the "Divergent" series by Veronica Roth. Heroes in adventure stories often face life-and-death scenarios that test their willingness to sacrifice their own lives -- if need be -- for the sake of the greater good. Adventure stories contain a sense of urgency, so protagonists must accomplish their goals or missions in a short period of time, says Saricks.

Dark Moods

Adventure fiction tends to have a dark, foreboding mood with an expectant tone because readers don't usually find out if the protagonist survives until the end of the story. Some adventure genre authors incorporate humor into their stories to soften the mood, such as Mark Twain's use of light-hearted dialogue in "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." Military adventures, such as "The Hunt for Red October" by Tom Clancy, "Flight of the Intruder" by Stephen Coonts or "Ender's Game" by Orson Scott Card, reflect an especially menacing mood because characters frequently face perilous circumstances and must constantly guard against intruders, suggests Saricks.

Evil Adversaries

Antagonists in adventure novels tend to be extremely evil, so readers desperately want the hero or heroine to defeat them. For example, antagonists in the James Bond series by Ian Fleming typically lack moral values and deserve punishment for their corrupt behavior. Villains in superhero adventure stories show little regard for human life and have self-serving interests, such as the unquenchable desire for power, fame or wealth. Even though heroes in adventure fiction have character flaws and often evolve during the course of the story, the genre contains clearly defined good and bad guys.

About the Author

As curriculum developer and educator, Kristine Tucker has enjoyed the plethora of English assignments she's read (and graded!) over the years. Her experiences as vice-president of an energy consulting firm have given her the opportunity to explore business writing and HR. Tucker has a BA and holds Ohio teaching credentials.

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