Techno Thriller Novels – Developing the Plot

Revolution or Evolution?

When you write a techno thriller novel (or thrillers in general), how does the plot develop and evolve?

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 feasible extraction of gold from seawater).

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 cop-out. 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!”. Sometimes it takes me weeks to figure out the answer. But then, I love problem solving.