The Challenges of Writing Techno-Political Thrillers
by John Wayne Falbey
There are two areas that I consider to be especially challenging in writing a current techno-political thriller. The first involves the technology part. It’s critical that the author gets the science right; otherwise, it’s science fiction, and that’s another genre. To get the science right, research is key. That raises questions, such as: When to conduct the research – before starting the book or during the writing of it?, Where to conduct it? and How much is sufficient?
When? Obviously it needs to be done before you begin writing about the subject to which it pertains. Jim Rollins, the noted NYT best selling author, does most of his research up front. He gives himself 90 days to complete it, and then begins writing the story. With my novel, Sleeping Dogs: The Awakening, I did the bulk of my research on genetics – an underlying theme – up front, then researched other topics, such as the toys of the über wealthy, sophisticated weaponry, etc., as situations developed during the writing of the book.
Where? For my first novel, The Quixotics, written before the technological revolution, I did most of my research in the library. Now I do most of it online. Caveat: don’t rely largely on a single source. For example, Wikipedia is very easy to use and covers just about every topic you can imagine. But it’s open-source, meaning that anyone can contribute to it and those contributions may not be accurate or current.
How much research? You should be able to discuss the topic intelligently and in some depth with experts on the subject. Your readership may include some of those experts. Readers don’t praise or patronize authors who have no real grasp of the subject.
The second challenge in writing thrillers is to blend reality with fiction. Most authors with whom I’ve discussed this topic admit that they have a tendency to base characters on people they know. It’s a better policy to build your individual characters from a composite of people – ones you may know well and others whom you may only have observed somewhere or read about. I did this with the personalities of the six members of the black ops unit in my novel Sleeping Dogs: The Awakening. Interestingly, many people I know think they recognize themselves as one or the other of these characters.
When basing characters on other people, the writer has to use caution not to openly commit libel or callously invade the privacy of a fellow human being. That’s not always as easy as it may seem. There’s something of an exception in this area, however, and that’s the public figure. Part of the price of fame and glory is the surrender of a portion of your right to privacy. I would not suggest you go so far as to use the same name for your character as the person on whom he or she is based. That may be crossing the line.
As for blending reality into the story line of the thriller, that’s relatively easy. Read newspapers and magazines, tune in to the news media on radio and television, and follow blogs and online forums. Despite the bias inherent in much of what you see and hear, there’s enough political intrigue in the world today for any serious writer to craft a good techno-political thriller.
Genre – Techno-Political Thriller
Rating – PG
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