Writing Techno-thrillers

There are a few things you learn when you write a series of techno-thrillers, and they can be painful lessons. If you’re interested in writing in that genre, maybe I can save you a little bit of time with a few observations.

The first and probably most important one is that readers of techno-thrillers generally care about details. The majority might just want the verisimilitude of plausible information, but there’s also a hardcore segment who will check up on you. They want details that are verifiable, and they’ll also notice things that don’t quite add up. This is especially true for the gun people.

The gun people are the portion of thriller and techno-thriller readers who really care very deeply indeed about guns, for whatever reason. They care about guns to an unhealthy degree — although there’s probably no healthy degree to which you can care about guns, come to think of it. In any case, if you mention anything non-generic about guns, you’d better get it right, because you will get letters about it otherwise. Forget about accounting for recoil when it’s pertinent to a scene? Get the wrong kind of firing mode selector? The wrong calibre for the model, god forbid? Implausible noise, or amount thereof? Unrealistic accuracy given the range and firearm? You’re going to hear about it. A throwaway quick reference to one person shooting another, lasting all of a sentence or two, can require half an hour of research to get the fine details right. It’s just part of the genre. Pay attention to that stuff.

The other type of details that matter are a consequence of the fact that a lot of techno-thrillers are globe-hopping tales: you have to get geography, travel, and their consequences. This is something to incorporate into your novel plan right from the beginning. I’d advise you to literally map out where your protagonist is going to go, on a world or regional map, because it gives you a really good idea of the relative distances involved. Then you need to look up or calculate a few things:

Here’s a useful technique that I use. Once I’ve made the general plan and know what my locations are and what will happen in each place, I work backwards from the climax. Make a note of location changes, account for times and travel, and annotate the plan for each chapter or scene with what time of day or night it is, and whatever else seems useful. Most authors will probably realise they need to account for travel time to distant locations, but it’s very easy to pre-decide what time of day it’ll be when a scene takes place, then find out later that it just couldn’t possibly be that time when your character gets there. This mistake can easily happen once you’ve started writing, and inevitably make changes to your plan as you go.

Breaking things down on a scene-by-scene basis and writing scenes instead of chapters let you handle all this a bit more easily, because each chunk of writing takes place at a particular time and in a particular place. With appropriate planning, you always know whether your people are looking up at sunshine, stars, or the snow-heavy clouds blocking either of them out.

You’ll still make some mistakes, of course — I certainly have — but hopefully your beta readers will help to spot those before the book goes out. And even if they don’t, it’s a learning experience, and it’ll remind you to spend a little more time on the planning and research part for your next book.

Just be sure to get the guns right.