Rick Chesler, author of the techno-thriller WIRED KINGDOM and the just-released kiDNApped talks about my favorite subject: What it takes to write a good thriller!
First of all, many thanks to author Toby Tate for having me as a guest on his blog!
So I’ve been asked, what does it take to write a good thriller? Good question. I try to write something I would like to read myself—a story that has some familiar elements culled from the books I liked, but with a unique premise, plot, style, and a voice of my own. But how to actually get there?
First of all, I think it takes a solid premise of some kind, or maybe a what-if scenario, that has the potential for lots of serious conflict. Sometimes these are inspired by real-life events. For example, several years ago I read a news report about a team of researchers who successfully encoded the lyrics to the Star Spangled Banner into the DNA of living cells, essentially turning living bacteria into a data storage medium, just like your hard drive--except that they’re alive, and every time they reproduce, they reproduce your message. From there I read about how some companies with potentially valuable gene patents were encoding their patent numbers right into the genetically engineered cells. I kind of put those two things together and came up with:
What if a scientist working on some ultra-lucrative applied genetics was kidnapped and held for ransom…and the only way he could send a message for help was to encode it into the DNA of the very cells he was working with? That was my starting point. I had to ask and answer a lot of questions along the way (How would he get into that situation? Who would kidnap him? What exactly was he working on? What happens to him in the end?)
The result was kiDNApped, and starting March 1, 2011, it is available for purchase here:
kiDNApped on Amazon.com
The process was similar for my first novel. One day, many years ago, I had a thought:
What if a whale tagged with a webcam were to broadcast a murder at sea?
That’s the premise of my debut thriller, WIRED KINGDOM, which was published in May of 2010. I started with that simple premise. From there, the questions multiplied like rabbits: who gets murdered? Who kills them and why? Why does the whale have a web-cam tag on it? How would that kind of technology even work? Who would be tasked with solving the crime? The answers to each of these questions lead down multiple paths of their own, and once I realized I could no longer mentally keep track of them all, I had to start typing them into the computer. After a few months of thinking about it like this, I had a solid opening, a general ending, and a couple of stepping stones in between. With that I began the first draft. The end result can be seen here:
WIRED KINGDOM on Amazon
Characterization and setting are also extremely important: believable personas with palpable motivations battling it out in exotic settings is what I shoot for, but there’s no one correct way to handle it.
Of course there’s more to writing a great thriller than only the premise, plot, characters and setting. The devil, as they say, is in the details, and so the execution of your idea needs to be as flawless as possible. Give ten writers the same short descriptions like those I started with above, and you’ll get 10 different books. The importance of exactly how it’s executed is what truly makes it your book.
Thanks for reading,
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