The Man Who Knew Too Much?

One sure fire way for getting a book deal as a thriller writer would be to have held a senior job in the security services – particularly if, for example you were once head of MI5 or are a former commander of Special Branch.  But, as writer George Eccles pointed out last week, sometimes too much knowledge can be a hindrance, rather than a help. Here’s his answer to my question about the sort of difficulties he faced in trying to set aside his expertise for the subject matter:

‘On reflection, I think some of the earlier drafts read more like a business history of post-perestroika Russian than a thriller. Looking back, although the story was good (I think), the early drafts made very slow reading.

At various stages, a number of different people read the manuscript, and it soon became clear that radical surgery was required. In the back of my mind, I’d always wanted to write a story where the action and twists moved really fast, almost before the reader had time to catch his breath, so in the end I decided to re-plan the book and rewrote it almost from scratch since this seemed the best way of achieving this objective. To put this in context, the final version of the manuscript was some 100 pages shorter than the original version.’

So, let’s clear here.  Because the book seemed to be like a business history the old draft was jettisoned and the new draft was written from scratch and in the final version, 100 pages were cut from the original.

I have had a similar problem with a play I am still trying to write.  I did so much historical research that when I attended a playwriting workshop where we had to come up with two scenes for the actors, who were coming in for a rehearsed reading, I found I was carrying the weight of the history of this true story on my shoulders.  And as I wasn’t writing a biographical play, I too had to throw away most of what I’d written and started with a blank page.  By then the clock was ticking and I had an hour left to write the scenes.  I did it by imagining what it must have felt like for the two injured and shell-shocked characters fighting for their survival on a tropical island.

So if you want to write thrillers, historical fiction or any other genre for that matter where research is required, remember that just because another writer might have done that particular job – it doesn’t follow that they will be any better at storytelling than you, me or the next person.

If you have any thoughts about research Id love to know them!  So drop me a line or comment on the blog.

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