by M. L. Buchman
I just finished the post-first-reader draft of my first-ever techno-thriller (and if I could squeeze more hyphens into that sentences...). I found the experience to be...educational to say the least.
I've written thrillers before. My Dead Chef foodie-thriller series follows television's top chefs as they are hunted and killed on air. These light-hearted romps all have several things in common, but one of those is having a romance down the core.
More info at: https://www.mlbuchman.com/thrillers/
These aren't romances, but rather have "strong romantic elements" as we say in the industry. Like my 50 romance novels (and even my several SF/F novels), a romance lends a structure to a novel. There are first meetings, intimacy, conflict, growing affection, and happy-ever-after resolution (or at least happy-for-now in the non-romances).
In my latest novel, I set out to write a pure techno-thriller. I didn't even want to mimic a Clive Cussler style where Dirk Pitt is falling happily in lust with the book's heroine. Even Lee Child's ever-so-remote Jack Reacher has something of a romance arc in most of his tales.
In this one? Not even a smidgen.
Why did I do this?
Partly to challenge myself--it's a piece of how I'm constantly striving to improve my craft. Take the romance core that I've learned over the course of 60 novels and almost every one of my 100+ short stories, and toss it aside. Learn something new.
Also, far more than romantic suspense, a thriller is about pacing. By removing the romance, I was able to focus all of my attention on the critical thriller element of pacing.
...and it was like I'd forgotten how to write.
Thoughts jumbled. Events seemed to just happen for reasons I, as the writer, couldn't figure out for the longest time. (I have learned as a writer to generally trust my instincts. If I insert something odd, there's probably a reason my subconscious put it there. So, even if I don't know why it's there, I almost always leave it in.)
Character arcs! Oy vey! Character arcs, with no underlying romance superstructure, were total chaos. A character's growth in a romance is most of why we read them. We want to go on the journey with them. It's how we know who the hero and heroine are, they're the ones going through the most change. That's who the reader consistently identifies with.
Sure. Great. Fine.
But what about all of the other possible character arcs outside of romance?
That was the harrowing challenge of my thriller. My main character had to find a whole other path. Also, they had to go through it without even once breaking the drive-ahead pace that's so essential to a thriller. It was an amazing and educational experience and, yes, there will be more of them.
And then, after I finished that draft and sent it to the copyeditor yesterday, I pulled up a military romantic suspense I'm working on, the second novel in the new series that started with a Novel #1 serialization this month:
Let me just say, "WHOA!" Suddenly character superseded pacing, sentences and paragraphs were longer, and there was a radiantly clear character arc (two of them actually, as it's a romance).
It's like coming home to an old friend...and not quite recognizing them. I'm sure that by the time I've done another day or two of writing, the familiar and comfortable world of romance will wrap it's gentle hug back around me. But for now, my brain is still in thriller world.
|Coming October 2019|
M.L. "Matt" Buchman has over 60 novels, 100 short stories, and a fast-growing pile of audiobooks out in the world. M.L. writes romance, thrillers, and SF&F…so far. Recently named as "The 20 Best Romantic Suspense Novels: Modern Masterpieces" by ALA’s Booklist, he has also been selected three times as "Top-10 Romance Novel of the Year." NPR and B&N listed other works as "Best 5 Romance of the Year." As a 30-year project manager with a geophysics degree who has: designed and built houses, flown and jumped out of planes, and bicycled solo around the world, he is awed by what's possible. More at: www.mlbuchman.com.