My guest-blogger this month is New York Times Bestselling Author Graham Brown. Graham is the author of The Eden Prophecy, Black Sun, and Black Rain; and the co-author of Devil’s Gate and The Storm with Clive Cussler. I asked him to share his thoughts on writing action adventure in the 21st Century. I think you’ll find it provoking and quite entertaining:
The Trouble With Technology
It was a dark and stormy night…
Well, as Snoopy so eloquently wrote, once upon time it actually was a dark and stormy night and that meant trouble. But in today’s day and age the hero will have night vision goggles to see by, a computer controlled GPS guidance system to get him or her through the storm on course and a comfortable ergonomically designed chair to sit in while they do it.
Technology has forced changes everywhere in the world, and – unless one is writing a historical novel – writing is no exception. Especially if you are keen on writing thrillers.
Take the sixties spy novels for instance – or the movies for that matter. Sean Connery era James Bonds had to steal blueprints, take pictures with tiny film cameras and watch out for listening devices – but they were easy to find as even with room for poetic license they were clumsy tape recorders or devices the size of a soda can. You can see them yourself at The Spy Museum in Washington D.C., where you’ll find all kinds of things that make you laugh – including an East German conference room where everything – chairs, tables, everything – was made of clear Lucite so that any American attempt to place a bug would be easily spotted. It reminded me of the cone of silence from Get Smart.
Nowadays, a bug can be the size of a pin head, a camera the size of a button. Voices can be recorded by bouncing a laser off the window of the structure that someone is meeting in; no need for a bug at all.
And that’s just the character’s problems – what about our problems as writers? I mean it’s our job to get these guys into situations that seem impossible to get out of. But how do you do that in today’s interconnected, linked up, GPS, Satellite phone equipped world?
In Black Rain I faced that problem. I wanted my characters out in the jungle cut off from civilization and on their own. But how to do it when one phone call or shortwave radio call would have brought them help? Well, I used the time honored system developed to perfection in the old Star Trek – I made the transporter – er, the radios and satellite phones that is – break down once they got out there in the jungle. (As a brief aside, would you beam down to a hostile planet knowing how often that thing breaks down? Even in the 24th century there are government contractors I guess.)
But of course it’s not as easy as saying – hey the phones and radio don’t work, you have to have a reason why they don’t work. So looking for this reason I discovered that EMP’s (Electro Magnetic Pulses) of a high powered nature will destroy transistors and fry circuit boards, the more advanced types being more vulnerable. So I wrote that into the story. But then I had to come up with a something that was making these EMP’s. So I did, and I wrote that into the story and then suddenly the story began to revolve around these new items instead of what I had originally intended it to do. It made for a better, more compelling book – and I think that’s always the case when the difficulties are actually part of the main plot.
My most recent novel is The Storm, co-written with Clive Cussler. This book was so much fun to work on. Clive and I spent hours talking about the technology of micro-machines and Nano-bots and what they could do if ever fully developed. We bounced ideas around as to how to work this into the plot, and then we spent a lot of time talking about the human element of the story. Because technology is fine, but if you’re not careful it can overwhelm the characters. (Case in point – the later Star Trek’s where they often saved the day by finding a new way to modulate the shield frequencies. Those kind of answers always leave a reader or viewer flat IMHO.)
Clive and I obviously didn’t want that to happen, which is why – without spoiling the ending – you will find in The Storm a deliberate contrast between the heroes and their low tech solutions and the villains and their high tech attacks.
In a way it’s slightly metaphorical of the struggle to maintain one’s humanity in the face of overwhelming technology. And it’s also darn good fun. Like when something breaks and you give it a whack and it starts working again. We all love to do that.
And maybe that’s the key in some way. Technology has made it easier to write techno-thrillers and harder to write genuine characters, but the opportunity always hides itself within the challenge. If it’s harder for us as writers and harder for our characters it also raises the stakes and makes the victory all that much sweeter.
Thanks to Kerry and all the readers of the blog.
My website is www.grahambrownthrillers.com
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