Friday, February 19, 2010

Writing by Numbers

I did some inventory work for the library yesterday, and found myself doing the Crime, Mysteries and Thrillers section.

I see a lot of post-Dan-Brown books - keywords: conspiracy, secret societies, etc.

Perhaps I should try one of those. Let's see, I'll need some kind of formula. It won't be easy for me because even though you can avoid sex scenes (the same way old sci-fi used to) you can't avoid death, and preferably torture, sadism, disfigurement and a lot of other stuff far beyond tying your heroine to a railway line - which I may find hard to write.

However - I can't give up before starting, so, let's see. I'll need these elements:

  • Famous Location(s) - Tourist attractions, cathedrals, special cities, etc. which might (or might not) like the publicity your book generates.
  • Famous People of the past - Who's been done? Mozart (Freemasons), Van Gogh, Gaudi, Da Vinci (or rather Leonardo) of course, Jesus and Mary, Shakespeare, Kennedy Bros, Elvis, Marilyn.
  • Imaginary organisations (or imaginative alternative uses for existing ones) or very secret societies - [eldritch rising organ music]
  • Scary events - Bond villain plans for the world – religious prophecies – natural catastrophes – alien invasion – ritual murder – abduction
  • Alternative Historical interpretations of source of civilization/religion, etc
  • Money (almost infinite resources to jump on planes, etc)
  • Religion - and esoteric belief systems of magic(k) or witchcraft
  • Espionage – codes and cyphers
  • A MacGuffin everyone is looking for (manuscripts, formula, Holy Grail, magic spear, etc)
  • Ingenious methods (technology from Q, magic from Jonathan Creek)
  • a couple of investigators - partly qualified but a little out of their depth
  • some innocents dragged into the whole thing – often in jeopardy
  • plenty of disposable villains (for getting their come-uppance)
  • the Grinning Sadist – boss’s sidekick or lone wolf?
  • a worthy opponent for our heros (curiously charming - but dangerous - Big Boss, or terrifyingly unhinged tyrant)
  • Special helpers (Mycroft Holmes, professors, etc) - usually die, too
  • Anonymous super-rich people (malign or benign) – provided with helicopters, forts, wodges of cash, etc
  • Celebrities (who, like police and spies, have access all areas – assistants, second homes, etc – disadvantage – easily recognised)

One obvious advantage of 'professors' is that they can lecture the protagonists with all the author’s research notes – just as they can explain their own specialities ad nauseum.

Although our protagonists should feel attracted to each other, for a little sexual frisson, they should be too busy running for their lives to actually find time to get it on, as they might in a bodice-ripper – and if you really want to make the goodie angry, try killing the woman he intended to commit to (leaving him an embittered but free bachelor for the next book).

It used to suffice to have a killing for murder mysteries, but jaded palates mean that you now have to have at least a serial killer, ideally a child killer, and perhaps multiple rapist as well (if you can sneak in the paedophile ring of respectable people, even better). The grinning sadist fits well in here. If even that doesn’t suffice you may have to escalate to genocide and dictators to give the reader a thrill, or even the end of the world and the human race.

Best to try to avoid farce at this point (DNA's starting point for H2G2 is the Earth being blown up by a Vogon Constructor Fleet developing a hyperspace bypass).

I guess if I want to make people squirm and curl their toes, without describing the torture of humans, I may have to do a very graphic scene in an abattoir, maybe.


FLY AGARIC 23 said...

Brilliant, thanks for sharing this break down of the ingredi-ants for a conspiri-thriller, Grail-buster!

At the same time that you build up ideas in my own head, you pull down the shit-heap of novels and movies that I think, have hacked our man, Dr. Wilson.

Keep up the Grailt woirk, love, steve fly.

Toby said...

Actually, as I work my way through a few of them I find they do vary more than I implied.

However, one thing they seem to lack remains a sense of humour. Seems like you have to take this stuff seriously to feel satisfyingly scared (the fairground ride adrenaline rush).

The Bobs blew away that framework, and allowed themselves talking dolphins, the Dealy Lama, dead Nazis in a lake, Atlantean history, etc. Fabulous (in the real sense of the word). And funny too.

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