I love asking authors to write guest posts for Reading Kills. I don’t really give any instructions beyond “the story of your book”, because I like to hear what different authors make of it: whether they describe their desks, or the amount of time it takes, or the research – I like to hear whatever angle they want to bring to the discussion. And here, Chris Allen talks about his the Intrepid series, and why he makes things as tough for Alex Morgan as he does.
KEEP MOVING FORWARD
So, I was going to put together a few words about my writing process but then I started thinking about why I approach the books the way I do, particularly the central character – Alex Morgan. After all, before you work out how you’re going to write something – the process – you need to be clear about who or what you’re writing about. Writing in the Crime/Thriller/Espionage arena, I’m sometimes asked about why I don’t equip Morgan with all the latest high-tech gadgets and weaponry. The simple answer is – I don’t want to.
I guess the fundamental construct of my Alex Morgan character is based on the premise that I wanted to present a hero who – in each and every story – has to overcome overwhelming adversity and, ultimately, triumph over it. To achieve that I regularly put Morgan up against seemingly impossible situations without the ability to immediately resort to the use of the latest technology or hardware to get himself out of trouble. That’s quite deliberate on my part.
There are already a number of really great writers like Andy McNab, Vince Flynn and Tom Clancy who have very successfully created stories imbued with the latest tech and/or field craft. When I developed the Alex Morgan and Intrepid concept I made a conscious decision to strip back the resources available to the agents so that they were forced to rely mostly on themselves not weapons or tech. In fact, I spell this out very early in the first book DEFENDER when Arena Halls is commenting on Intrepid during a conversation with her boss, Abraham Johnson in Chapter 9:
“I understand the general’s known to run it old school, sir. Sends his agents out with the maxim ‘live by your wits’. He’s not keen on modern gadgets, or technology in the field… No fan of the modern ‘techno-spooks’, as he calls them.”
So, you see, this was a deliberate choice I made. The idea originally came from the Vietnam veterans who trained me as a young soldier and later as a young officer. They would regularly reinforce that all they had to rely on was their rifle and their mates. So, I simply wanted to honour that in the construct of the characters and stories I created.
Of course, in addition to all that, it is my job as an author first and foremost to entertain.
I set out to put the reader right there with the characters – embedded in the action – to, hopefully, feel as though they are living the experiences I am describing as they read. I set out to provide an escape from normal life, particularly for the majority of readers who have never had the experiences of ex-soldiers or law enforcement people. For example, if Alex Morgan simply emerges from out of nowhere and takes out all the villains with a silenced automatic then the action would be over and done with within the matter of a paragraph. There would be no confrontation. No odds to overcome. No contest to test the hero’s mettle. How do we know what he’s really capable of unless we take him to the brink of his own mortality? And if we don’t know the answer to that question, why would he be worth our effort and loyalty? Books are all about pace and excitement – to keep the story interesting and propel the reader through the pages. Our protagonist needs to be taken to the brink, allowing the reader to contemplate the very decisions the protagonist has to make that ultimately see them prevail or fail. All of the uncertainty and anxiety that the reader experiences in wondering whether or not the hero will survive an altercation, solve a crime or somehow beat the odds are fundamental to the readers enjoyment of the story.
I suppose there’s a bit of the Rocky Balboa approach to what I expose Alex Morgan to in my stories and I believe that’s why readers enjoy the stories: “But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward.”
Helldiver, the fourth book in the Intrepid series, is out today – and you can find more info out here.