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Conflict Overview: The Americans

The Americans is a new television series about KGB spies living in the suburbs of D.C. in the early 1980’s during the Reagan era. The stars, Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell, play undercover Soviet agents forced to live as man and wife (and have children) to blend into suburban America.

Let’s look at how this breaks down into the story building blocks.

The premise and overall story problem is KGB agents living in suburban DC in 1981. 

The genre/sub-genre is Spy Thriller. Which means “the promise” is cat and mouse games between the protagonists and the antagonists.

The central question is: Will they catch them or stop them in time?

Secrets a character is willing to die or kill for are always powerful. The premise raises good story questions. Will their cover get blown? Will they be executed or returned? Will they defect or turn double agents? If they defect and go into witness protection, will their marriage survive? What would the children do if they found out their parents were Soviet agents?

The interpersonal conflict comes from navigating the suburban 1980s and living with an arranged marriage (long enough to have a teen-aged child). It's fun to watch their children spout anti-Soviet rhetoric. You know the parents want to argue the point! More tension.

The internal conflict arises from the husband wishing to defect to the U.S. because their children are very much American. The wife does not agree with him. Their exact feelings for one another are in question.

The antagonist conflict is provided by the United States Government counterintelligence department. This is represented by an FBI agent who moves in across the street from the spies.

If you practice breaking stories down into their building blocks, it becomes easier to build your own stories. Whether you are watching television and movies or reading books, give it a try. Can you identify the key elements? What did you like? What didn't you like?

Once you get a feel for what worked, you can apply it when planning your next novel.

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