Mar 062012


Michael Newton has written more than 240 novels

The following was excerpted from Michael Newton’s classic How to Write Action/Adventure Novels recently republished by The Write Thought. The examples may be a bit dated, but the advice is as solid as the day it was written.

Many authors draw on personal experience for inspiration, falling back upon the maxim that it’s best to “write what you know.” Ex-Green Beret Barry Sadler is a prime example; having first parlayed a tour of Vietnam into a million-selling record album, he now enjoys a successful career as a novelist in the action/adventure genre. Big-city police work has yielded several authors of note, including Robert Daley, Dorothy Uhnak, and Jo­seph Wambaugh. Service in the intelligence community provides a taste of gritty realism to novels written by E. Howard Hunt and Bill Fieldhouse, not to mention the late, great Ian Fleming.The quest for raw experience is sometimes carried to extremes. One writer on the staff of Able Team (Gold Eagle Books) became so fascinated with the politics of Third World liberation struggles that he wound up in Sri Lanka, teaching martial arts to rebel forces, building barricades and booby traps while bloody riots raged around him in the streets. I generally would not recommend this type of “research” to the novice, but there’s no denying that a taste of combat can provide new insight, bringing an immediacy to the printed page.It isn’t necessary for an author to be living on the edge, however, for experience to serve as inspiration. Even the most trivial, mundane event may offer grist for the creative mill. Stephen King’s short story “Crouch End” was inspired when King got lost in London’s back streets, searching for a friend’s address. In 1983, Gold Eagle’s authors gathered for a two- day conference in Las Vegas, plotting new directions for their series. One of the attendees, Jerry Ahem, subsequently used the meeting as the center­piece of an adventure novel. In The Hard Way (Gold Eagle, 1984), Ahem portrays a group of action writers, meeting in Las Vegas, who are taken hostage by a band of terrorists. They finally defeat the heavies, using weap­ons one of them habitually carries in his luggage, and the day is saved.

Assuming that you’re not a mercenary, and you don’t spend your vaca­tions stalking terrorists or bugging embassies, you have another source of inspiration at your fingertips. That’s right—the daily news! If you possess the requisite imagination to be writing novels in the first place, any net­work news show, any major urban daily should provide you with at least the germ of an idea. If you cannot rack up at least a dozen viable sugges­tions from the news in any given week, there’s something badly out of whack. I’d recommend you try a different source, or take another look at the material in hand to jump-start your imagination.

Television and the movies fall back constantly on current issues as the basis for their action plots. In Dirty Harry, for example, the sadistic “Scorpio” is no more than a stand-in for a real-life killer, the elusive “Zo­diac.” (Unlike the heavy played by Andy Robinson, however, Zodiac is still at large.) An episode of TV’s “Equalizer” squared the title hero off against an adult bully bent on harassing a small boy plagued with AIDS— a story lifted more or less intact from headlines out of Florida and Indiana. And if you’re afflicted with insomnia some evening, don’t waste time with sheep; try counting all the films and novels rooted in the controversy over MIAs in Vietnam.

I personally try to link my action novels with the latest news whenever possible. A blend of fact and fiction, if judiciously employed, adds authen­ticity—and it may entice new readers who are interested in your subject matter from their own perusal of the daily news. In 1981, when several members of the Ku Klux Klan were busted on the eve of their attempt to seize the island of Dominica, I saw potential for a story. Phasing out the Klan in favor of a neo-fascist billionaire with syndicate connections, plan­ning an invasion of Grenada, I produced the novel Paramilitary Plot (Gold Eagle, 1982). Reports of Yakuza involvement in Las Vegas gambling in­spired The Bone Yard, and a Sunday supplement on teenage runaways in Southern California prompted me to write Hollywood Hell (both from Gold Eagle, 1985). In 1986, a “60 Minutes” segment dealing with Viet­namese “dust children” planted the seed for a revenge novel, Child of Blood, which sold to Bantam Books.

Sometimes, with luck, you get the jump on history. Six months before the flight crew of a skyjacked aircraft used their fire ax on a terrorist, with permanent results, I included a similar scene in the manuscript of Flight 741 (Gold Eagle, 1986). And five full years before Islamic gunmen captured the Achille Lauro, I dispatched a team of Black September terrorists to seize the good ship Crystal Belle, in Death Cruise (Carousel, 1980).

Psychic? Hardly. Nor do I believe the PLO was studying my manuscript before they launched their raid. The fact is, if you learn enough about the real-life heavies, come to understand the way they think and operate, you may incorporate a realism in your work that offers a decided edge in mak­ing sales.

With 248 (!) published books under his ammo belt, one might reasonably expect to learn a bit on how to write from Michael Newton.

Just a write thought.

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