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On Writing Techno Thriller Novels
How I develop a plot
When you write a techno thriller novel (or thrillers in general), how does the plot develop and
Do you start out with a central idea, and then map it and develop it from there, with the structure clear in
your mind, or on paper, before you start writing? Or, do you have another approach? Many writers let the story
flow, and that’s what I’ve learned to do, starting from one central idea (the fesible extraction of gold from
Of course, that way, you don’t know how it will end up, other than the fact that you have to keep alive the main
character (or not)!
‘Gate of Tears’ is set mainly in the Middle East, where the Strait known as the ‘Gate of Tears’ guards the
southern entrance to the Red Sea. There is action and other storylines are set in Alaska, Australia, London and
China besides the Red Sea, and in many ways the geography helped the plot development. It would probably be more
difficult for me to write a thriller that was set in a fairly constrained environment – say a prison.
Anyway, one of the problems about not thinking the plot through in advance (though I’m not sure that affects
this point), is that a stage comes in the story where a character has come to an impossible situation. How does one
deal with that? Well, firstly, I was the one that put him or her in that spot. I can always ‘unwrite’ it. But to
me, that seems like a copout. So, I wait and think, and sometimes it takes a few weeks to resolve the situation
(even by adding in some relevant context earlier in the book). It all helps to build the story. It gives me more
time to think, too.
Another issue is when you are wondering ‘what happens next’?
You could do as Luke Rhinehart does in ‘The Diceman’. Identify some options and then throw the dice to see which
scores most. That’s an interesting way of moving the plot forward, but it’s an approach I didn’t use. I don’t know
how it worked for me, I guess it was just creative when things got to a junction.
Techno thrillers also offer other ways of plot development, because the technology itself can tell a story. And,
then, when you get down to it, if you have some nous, you can extrapolate existing technology. I have a defence
equipment blog feed which I follow, and that unearths new technology for me. Then, today on the television, I saw
the new Sony robot which can hop on one leg, pour a drink and dance. It was scary, and the weapons possibilities
are disturbing (or not - maybe they’d save lives).
Anyway, in a techno thriller, these techniques all help the plot develop and evolve, allowing room for
creativity. My favourite, though, is when I tell the main character ‘Now, get out of that!”.
8 November, 2011
James Marinero writes techno-thrillers - science faction as he describes it here. There's more about his work at
www.jamesmarinero.com Here's the link to the home site of his
techno-thriller 'Gate of Tears' .
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