Your Next Thriller: Idea Goldmine

The July 2018 issue of Wired is a treasure trove of ideas for thriller writers. Here are the ones that got my creative juices flowing.

satellite 2

photo: Alexas_Fotos, creative commons license

Space Wars and Daily Life
“The Outer Limits of War,” by Garrett M. Graff, which bears the provocative subhead “a new arms race is threatening to explode—500 miles above our heads.” A parenthetical factoid declares that 14 out of the 16 “infrastructure sectors designated as critical by the Department of Homeland Security, like energy and financial services, rely on GPS for their operation.” Things you might not expect, like ATMs, cellular networks, and credit card systems depend on GPS. And the satellite array that makes GPS possible is highly vulnerable to deliberate attack, not to mention the 500,000 pieces of debris, marble-sized and up, currently orbiting earth at up to 17,000 mph.

The All-Seeing Eye
In Steven Levy’s “The Wall,” Palmer Lucky’s portable surveillance towers use radar, cameras, and communications technologies to identify moving objects up to two miles away. The virtual reality component of the system tags objects as people or coyotes. Then it reports in to those who will do something about it. Such systems would have military uses, scanning the battlefield, and are being tested at the U.S.-Mexico border. Lucky’s virtual wall would cost about one-fiftieth of the proposed 30-foot high concrete structure under consideration at the border, with all its security, wildlife disruption, aesthetic, and property infringement downsides.


photo: Mike Cauldwell, creative commons license

“The Blockchain: A Love Story; The Blockchain: A Horror Story,” by Gideon Lewis-Kraus. How the Tez went bad. Leaving aside the particulars of this long piece, a good thriller writer can expertly decode the most opaque problem. So I hope you’re working on a novel about cryptocurrency and blockchain technology, so I can finally understand it.

Mission Possible?
Oh, and the Mission Impossible movie franchise technologies that have—and have not—achieved reality. Gecko gloves, yes. Covert subdermal implants, no.

That Plastic Gun Isn’t a Toy
Finally, check out this chilling video on the Wired website headlined “Legal Win Opens Pandora’s Box for Weapons.” Forget age requirements. Forget background checks. Forget gun control altogether. Thank you, DoJ.

“He’s Got a Gun!”

gun, firearm, weapon

(photo: r. nial bradshaw, creative commons license)

The late Elmore Leonard advised budding crime-writers, “when your story starts to drag, have someone pull out a gun.” Maybe too many of us have been following that advice, because several recent books aim to inject more accuracy into the portrayal of guns (and other weaponry). Errors make some readers swear off a writer and, as the introduction to The Writer’s Guide to Weapons: A Practical Reference for Using Firearms and Knives in Fiction
explains, “no wrath is greater than that of firearms enthusiasts.”

According to a recent post in Jane Friedman’s excellent “Resources for Writers” blog, written by Benjamin Sobieck, who also wrote the Writer’s Guide, above, here are key points about guns that writers should keep in mind to avoid those credibility-shattering results:

  1. Clip and magazine are not the same. A clip holds cartridges that go into a magazine. Most modern firearms don’t require a clip. But it sounds good, no? Clip: Manly. Magazine: Better Homes & Gardens
  2. Bullet is not the same as shell, round, or cartridge. You never find empty bullets on the ground after a shooting. Casings, yes.
  3. The whole pumping of a shotgun or cocking the hammer of a handgun is a sound cue from the movies, intended for intimidation, but, as Sobieck says, “less to do with looking tough and more to do with being stupid.” These extra and in most cases unnecessary pumps/cocks just “dump unfired ammunition onto the ground.” Why would anyone intimidate another person with a firearm, if it weren’t ready to fire? Good question. Ask your author.
  4. While this would seem to be an “it goes without saying” kind of thing, a character should never look down the barrel of a gun to see whether it’s loaded. Who’d be that stupid? I had a clip showing a tv character actually doing this, but it has disappeared. Sorry!
  5. And, perhaps the most pervasive of all gun errors in both news and entertainment media currently, the term “assault weapon.” This actually is meaningless. ANY weapon can be used for assault. The industry doesn’t use it. Sobieck says “tactical rifle (or shotgun), machine gun, submachine gun, fully automatic rifle,” or even “gun” are more meaningful than “assault weapon.”
  6. The term “automatic weapon” is often elided to mean either a semi-automatic weapon (which shoots one time with each trigger pull) or a “fully automatic weapon” which fires many times with a single pull. The idea of “automatic” weapons needs to be well defined. Fully automatic weapons are not very accurate after the first few shots because of recoil, so long, Rambo-inspired bursts of fire are actually useless if the goal is to hit anything.

Finally, in his book, Sobieck includes “Ten Golden Tips for Writing about Weapons,” which includes this advice: “If it’s in a movie or on television, it’s probably inaccurate.”