So you want to write a thriller. Not just any old thriller, but a pot-boiler, with twists and turns, a climactic ending and one worthy, not only of publication, but possibly also made into a film, or better yet, a television series. That is practically how I got started. Well, not really, but read on if you want to find out more.
Here’s how you go about it. Or at least, how I went about it. Please bear in mind that these are highlights that merely scratch the surface. Each of the points below require much more elaboration, which I will in future blogs.
It all begins, with an idea, which can be described in a few simple words. It may surprise you to learn that this idea, these few words, may well turn into the synopsis one you are done writing your magnum opus. So, action: write it down. Don’t worry if things may change – hint: they always do. You can always go back and change it if you feel the need. What does an idea have? Read any blurb of any thriller on the backcover of a paperback and you will have your answer. But just to be clear, it will have characters, the situation and leave the cliff-hanger of an ending to the reader’s imagination.
I know, I know. You’d think that you start with the plot. I didn’t. I started with characters and here’s why. The plot has to be consistent with the characters. The characters are the ones who bring the plot to life. Perhaps, just once in a while, you may go back and decide to change an aspect of the characters. That’s absolutely okay. But don’t go writing about people you haven’t developed. You need to know them like you know a sibling or an irritating relative. Quite well, in fact so, action: draw from your experience with the people you know, mix and match and have fun with it. You can draw from your imagination. The Tech has characters that stemmed from thin air – like no one that I know and hint: be creative. It will sell.
“I know. I am carrying coal to Newcastle”
I actually used an interesting method of writing the plot. I planned it like a thirteen-episode season 1 of a television series, with episode titles. Each chapter was carefully crafted moving characters around like pieces on a chess board. I strove to make it incredible and believable at the same time. I dreamed of sequences, of conversations, of confrontations, bombs and explosions, gun-battles long before I put pen to paper. I needed to see it with my mind’s eye – action: Imagine the scene, visualise it before you put pen to paper. I had a lot of fun, though I did often agonise over consistency of characters, timelines and smooth reading hint: at the plot level. It’s worth jotting down dates, times, weather, climate, atmosphere, ambiance, and never forgetting what your characters look like, how they behave, their accent, their vocabulary, and how they’d react in a particular situation. Absolutely essential to plotting.
Research, Research and more Research
I know. I am carrying coal to Newcastle. But there is an art to this. Whet your appetite. Lick your lips. I am about to reveal a deep, dark secret of mine. Research can be fun too. And with the internet, you don’t have to leave the safety of your home office or favourite café with its dubious public internet connection but there is a little prep to it action: make a list of what you need to research. Okay, okay. You’ve got me. I didn’t actually do that, but I certainly wish I did – hint: I researched everything I needed for the book as I went along with my writing. As an example, I had to research the intricate engineering aspects of a semi (articulated lorry for the Brits) articulator, engine and cargo container included. I wish I had done it much earlier. I had to change the plot – to its betterment, thankfully, but I could have saved myself oodles of time by being prepared.
Writing The Blasted Book
I am so, so, very sorry. I shouldn’t say blasted. But, damn it! It was laborious. To be perfectly honest with you, it was fun. The first draft was, at any rate. Going back, dozens of times, to revise it – not so much and therefore action: don’t start writing until you’ve re-read the synopsis, imagined the scene and know exactly how you are going to write. I heard about freewriting and even tried it once. I discovered that it actually worked for a shorter novel, but not for potboiler. I can’t explain why in this blog, but will tell you later – hint: you can’t possibly imagine the difficulty in translating freewriting into a coherent manuscript that covers massive conspiracy being solved by a motley FBI crew. You just can’t.
Revision, Revision and more Revision
There are many out there who will have written books and devoted chapters to how to review and revise your book. And then there’s how I did it. Each chapter was revised immediately for punctuation, grammar, consistency and construction/vocabulary. But that was it. I left the manuscript alone for weeks and then came back to it with a fresh pair of eyes, reading it as I would a new book. As would a critic – action: The greater the length of time, the greater the quality of its review, so take your time. I discovered plausibility issues, characters behaving inconsistently, but more importantly, I discovered new ideas, new plot elements, new ways to enthral the reader – hint: one of my characters developed new powers and shed one whilst I was revising the manuscript.
FINALISING MO (No, it doesn’t stand for Modus Operandi, hint: I Have Already Mentioned Its Full Form Earlier In The Blog)
I confess that I am running out of steam. Believe it or not, this blog was written using the freewriting technique. I insist on having it published as is. The boring tasks of finding and commissioning a copyeditor, agonising of cruel, insensitive, but ultimately constructive comments – action: for my first book, I decided to hire two copyeditors to get both male and female perspectives, one proof-reader-cum-typesetter and a publication company willing to publish said MO. It was well worth the effort. And cost. But don’t take my word for it. Read The Tech and decide for yourself – hint: or rather a disclaimer – I get royalty if you do.
Have fun. I know I did.