Today I’m delighted to welcome author Adam Hamdy to Jen Med’s Book Reviews. I have a great guest post to share with you all to celebrate the recent release of Adam’s latest thriller, Black 13, book one in the Scott Pearce Series. Before we hear from Adam, here’s what the book is about:
About the Book
Black 13 is the brilliant first novel in the Scott Pearce series from Adam Hamdy. In this addictive and fast-paced thriller, ex-MI6 officer Pearce is about to show us that in a world where there is no loyalty to the nation state, it’s time to burn the espionage rule book.Available from: Amazon | Kobo | Waterstones | Googleplay | Apple Books
An exiled agent. A growing threat. A clandestine war.
The world is changing beyond recognition.
Radical extremists are rising and seek to enforce their ideology globally.
Governments, the military and intelligence agencies are being outmanoeuvred at every step. Borders are breaking down. Those in power are puppets.
The old rules are obsolete. To fight this war a new doctrine is needed.
In a world where nothing is at it seems, where trust is gone, one man will make the difference.
Meet Ex-MI6 agent and man in exile, Scott Pearce.
It’s time to burn the espionage rule book.
Watch Pearce light the fire.
Page or Screen
Adam Hamdy on Creating His Story
“Can we have more women in glamourous dresses?” It was probably the worst suggestion I’ve ever received and it came from a producer who was developing a crime thriller screenplay I’d sold. When I asked why, he replied, “Audiences like seeing beautiful women in pretty dresses. It will give us some shots for the trailer.”
Do they? Leaving aside the troubling sexism implicit in the remark, are audiences so predictable? If all it takes is women in pretty dresses, or fast cars or explosions to keep audiences happy, why even bother with tricky things like story, plot or character?
I’m about to start my seventh novel and have been screenwriting for more than ten years. It’s been hard work, but I’ve learned a great deal by straddling both worlds and if you want a simple primer that condenses years of brutal experience, read on.
I usually start with a concept. It could be personal, situational or philosophical, or any combination of the three, but this is the big idea that sparks the story, and can often be framed as a ‘what if’ question. What if someone woke each day unable to remember anything? What if reality was a giant computer simulation? What if you had to live the same day over and over again?
Once I have the concept, I start an iterative process of exploring the story and figuring out the best protagonist. The same concept can birth wildly different stories. Groundhog Day and Live, Die, Repeat are wonderful examples of this.
Choosing the correct central character is crucial. Imagine Back to the Future with George McFly (the father) as the protagonist. Or The Matrix told from Morpheus’s perspective. Aspiring writers often struggle with passive protagonists, characters who things happen to, but who aren’t agents of change. Usually it’s because the story is being told from the wrong perspective, or the protagonist hasn’t been put into the right story.
The most powerful characters are the ones who have an inherent stake in the outcome of the story that sets them in conflict with the antagonist. The cop on the hunt for the killer. The scientist trapped on an island full of killer dinosaurs. Marty McFly is the right character for Back to the Future, because he has a personal stake in the outcome. If he fails, he will cease to exist.
Writers can sometimes confuse character with characteristics. What was Marty McFly’s favourite drink? Which way did he part his hair? How did he feel when he looked in the mirror? These are characteristics. Character is conflict. Audiences engaged with Back to the Future because they were drawn to the conflict inherent in the situation in which Marty found himself. And to answer the above questions, if he was happy, his favourite drink was a milkshake. When angry it was scotch. He parted his hair on the left, except when he was beleaguered in which case it was a mess. Sometimes when he looked in the mirror he felt confident and handsome, other times bewildered and completely out of his depth.
Characteristics change depending on where a character is on their journey. That central conflict doesn’t change. The character may be closer to or further away from resolution, but if the conflict ceases to exist, so does the story engine. So a note about women wearing pretty dresses doesn’t improve the story or character. It goes to a characteristic that may or may not be appropriate once the central dynamics of character and story have been figured out.
Once you’ve got the correct character or characters, think about the plot and figure out the most powerful way to tell the story. Christopher Nolan’s film Memento could have been told chronologically, but it would have lost much of its impact. Work out how to structure your story to maximise drama and the emotional payoff for the reader or viewer.
While you’re doing all this preparatory work, and when you come to write the book or screenplay, learn to listen your inner voice. Writing is strange blend of the technical and the magical. The technical can be taught and learned. The magical comes from the energy you feel while writing. If the story feels sluggish, it probably is. If you feel as though your character lacks vitality, he or she probably needs work.
As with most things in life, experience is key. Learn to listen to yourself and trust your intuition. Some writers struggle with this because they’re afraid of their powerful inner critic. Over time, I’ve figured out how to distinguish the inner critic who hates everything, from the inner perfectionist, who pushes me to deliver the best possible results. The inner critic has nothing productive to say, everything you do is terrible and it always will be. The inner perfectionist says, ‘this is rubbish, but you could do that, which is better.’
And if none of that works and you’re still stuck, you could always put a character in a pretty dress. Although as a thriller writer, I prefer Raymond Chandler’s stock when-in-doubt trick of having someone walking into a room with a gun.
About the Author
British author and screenwriter Adam Hamdy works with studios and production companies on both sides of the Atlantic. He is the author of the Pendulum trilogy, an epic series of conspiracy thriller novels. James Patterson described Pendulum as ‘one of the best thrillers of the year’, and the novel was a finalist for the Glass Bell Award for contemporary fiction. Pendulum was chosen as book of the month by Goldsboro Books and was selected for BBC Radio 2 Book Club. Prior to embarking on his writing career, Adam was a strategy consultant and advised global businesses in the medical systems, robotics, technology and financial services sectors.