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How to Write an Action-Packed Technothriller


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Are you interested in writing a technothriller, but you aren't quite sure how to start? Keep reading to learn what classifies as a technothriller, seven components of successful technothrillers, and plot planning tips to keep the action popping so your readers stay engaged.

What is a technothriller?

Technothrillers blend the detailed technical and scientific aspects of science fiction with the high stakes action of a typical thriller, and the plot usually hinges on a technological failure or technological triumph. Technothrillers often feature plots that endanger human existence as we know it, so characters might have ties to the government, the military, or global scientific organizations. Iconic technothrillers include Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October and Clear and Present Danger and Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park and Jurassic World.

The seven components of successful technothrillers

  1. A compelling, relatable protagonist: To keep readers invested in your story, create a relatable, well-rounded protagonist who possesses believable strengths and relatable flaws. Readers do not expect your protagonist to be perfect and will find the protagonist more realistic if he or she has flaws or fears that occasionally complicate the protagonist's plans. A technothriller will be action driven, so your protagonist will be reacting to events beyond his or her control, such as trying to stop some kind of world-ending catastrophe.
  2. A believable antagonist: Your antagonist will most likely be the character who drives the plot forward and creates most of the action, so you need to create an antagonist that readers can sympathize with on some level. Even the worst antagonist won't be 100% evil—he or she has to have some aspect of humanity or a kernel of good within him or her. It is imperative that you create an antagonist with enough humanity so readers can understand—and maybe even relate to—his or her motives. The conflict and struggle between the antagonist and the protagonist will create the tension that keeps readers turning the page.
  3. High stakes: Any good thriller will include high-stakes situations that threaten the protagonist's life or livelihood, and the most engaging technothrillers will take it one step further and include scenarios that threaten or endanger the global population. Brainstorm scenarios that might threaten humans around the world, such as overnight climate change, artificial intelligence waging war against humans, an enemy country infiltrating military exercises, or science experiments gone awry. To keep your readers turning the pages late into the night, create high stakes on a massive scale as the primary conflict that your protagonist is working to resolve, and weave in high stakes on a personal or local level within the obstacles that the protagonist encounters along the way.
  4. Action on nearly every page: People read technothrillers to safely experience excitement, danger, and suspense while escaping the mundanity of daily life, so be prepared to deliver action, surprise twists, danger, and subterfuge on just about every page. Just as romance readers often skim pages of exposition until they get to the steamy stuff, if you write long passages between the action, you're almost guaranteeing that your readers will skim paragraphs, skip pages, or stop reading altogether. To avoid this, use the plot-planning tips in the next section to create page-turning action that entices readers to continue reading late into the night because they just can't wait to see what will happen next.
  5. Accurate, detailed technology: Technology is what defines this subgenre of thrillers, so you will need to do significant research to ensure that you get the technological aspects correct. The story needs to be rooted in reality with technology that is plausible, even if the technology does not yet exist in our current reality. Since the resolution will most likely hinge on some feature of technology, make sure you have a comprehensive understanding of the technology that you choose to include. If you extrapolate and create a thriller based on technology that doesn't exist yet, make sure that your futuristic technology is based on something that will make sense to readers.
  6. Incorporate current real-world issues: The best technothrillers touch on issues that are relevant to current culture, society, or politics. Readers will feel more invested in your story if everyday things they take for granted are threatened by the high-stakes situations.
  7. Multiple settings: The high stakes of your technothriller will most likely endanger the entire world population, so consider including multiple settings that traverse time zones or the international date line. If you are looking for more ways to add tension to your story, just think of all the technological complications you could create for your protagonist around the international date line!

Now that we've identified the essential components of a technothriller, let's delve into the details of crafting the action. Technothrillers require extensive plot planning, so think back to the basic plot outlines you learned about in high school English class, and we'll walk through the most intimidating parts together.

Plot planning tips for an action-packed story

  1. Create a story outline or story map so you can visualize the plot points and identify any weak areas.
  2. Conceptualize what role technology will play in your technothriller. Document every detail about the technology to ensure that you do not contradict yourself, create plot holes or overlook a design flaw. Add all relevant technological details to your story outline or story map.
  3. Consider writing the last chapter of your story first. If you know where your story will end, you can work backwards to create compelling twists.
  4. Open your story in a moment full of danger and excitement to immerse your readers in the action on the very first page. Readers do not need to know every detail about your characters or the story from the first page; if you create a gripping opening scene, readers will keep reading to learn the backstory.
  5. Increase tension for your readers by limiting information or by giving the readers information that the protagonist does not yet possess.
  6. End most (maybe even all) of your chapters with cliffhangers. Readers won't be able to put your book down if every chapter ends with a nail-biting scene.
  7. Build suspense throughout the story. Just when it seems that things are going to work out for the protagonist, throw in twists that make everything fall apart.
  8. Create surprise twists and increase tension at various plot points by asking yourself a few questions:
    • What is the worst thing that could happen at this point in the story?
    • What are the protagonist's biggest fears, and how would he or she behave if forced to confront those fears at this point in the story?
    • What would readers expect to happen here? Consider this question if you want your protagonist to do the opposite of what readers might expect.
    • What motivates your protagonist and your antagonist? Once you identify their internal motivations, consider how those motivations might lead them to make choices that surprise the reader.
  9. Add internal and external struggles to increase tension and add excitement as your protagonist makes choices and reacts to the high-stakes situations. Revisit the scenarios regularly and evaluate whether or not the stakes will feel dire to readers. Consider asking a few trusted loved ones to read early drafts to ensure that readers feel invested in the conflicts.
  10. Incorporate a seemingly impossible deadline or a physical limitation that restricts the characters' options to increase tension as you approach the climax.
  11. Tie up any and all loose ends. After the climax, make sure that you resolve all of the tension that you created earlier in the story. You do not want to leave your readers feeling unsatisfied after they finish the book.
  12. Sprinkle subtle hints throughout the story to provide foreshadowing about danger, deception, or malfunctions that your protagonist will encounter later. It is important not to make any foreshadowing too obvious; the best thrillers contain foreshadowing that is only apparent for those who decide to re-read the book. If you write a successful thriller, readers might enjoy your book more the second time around, because they'll experience revelations that are only evident on a second read.
  13. Edit and omit anything that feels boring. After you finish your first draft, go back and edit to ensure that every paragraph moves the story along and contributes to the action. If you discover that you've written pages or even a few chapters that don't contribute to the action or advance the plot, don't worry. Set those pages aside and consider them an essential part of the backstory. You probably needed to write those pages to get to know the characters, and doing so helped you find your next thrilling action point.

Now that you know the essential components of a technothriller and you have the plot-planning tips above, sit down and start writing your first action-packed technothriller.

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