I love a dude with a problem

I hope you’re not expecting some sort of romantic confessional from that headline! I’m talking genre, not actual dudes.

I recently re-read Stephen King’s Misery because I’ve been listening to Save the Cat Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody, and Misery is used as an example of the “dude with a problem” sub-genre she describes in the book. I was entranced by Stephen King’s writing. He is a magician.

Misery is the name of the heroine of novelist Paul Sheldon’s best-selling series, a character he’s just killed off. He was celebrating being liberated from the chore of writing the character he hates, when he crashed in a blizzard. The novel starts with him coming around to consciousness after the accident, and slowly discovering how terribly injured he is. He discovers he’s also being held captive by Annie Wilks, who says she is his biggest fan.

Writers are always divided over ‘how to’ books, and the Save the Cat books (it was originally a screenplay guide by Blake Snyder) draw criticism for being formulaic. If you’re in that camp, Misery is a brilliant example of how, in skilled hands, the skeleton of formula is transformed. This is the sort of writing I aspire to!

The voices of the characters, the plot twists, the layer-upon-layer richness of meaning: I devoured it in 3 or 4 days. The reader is dropped straight into intimate, first person perspective, and the intensity does not let up. The reader’s only respite is when Paul, the protagonist, falls into unconsciousness.

Snyder and Brody define the ‘dude with a problem’ genre as a regular guy or gal (not a superhero) who finds themselves thrust into a life or death situation where they are forced to fight to survive. Think Die Hard. Or The Hunger Games or The Hate U Give. It’s a popular genre, and one I like, because it’s relatable: we all know that life can spring surprises on us.


My most-read story is a dude with a problem story, and it is one of my favourites. I realise now The Nurse owes a fair bit to Misery, although I wrote it years after I read the book and saw the film in the late eighties!

read The Nurse by Sam Brown

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