Table of Contents
- Part 1: Story and Characters
- 1) Defining the political thriller novel
- 2) Genre overlaps
- 3) Headlines – worthy story
- 4) Research and real politics
- 5) Creating the cast of characters
- 6) Creating the story
- Part 2: Plot and Structure
- 1) Structuring the novel
- 2) Building the world
- 3) Outlining the plot
- 4) Emotional development and characters’ arcs
- 5) Raising the stakes
- Part 3: Editing and Publishing
- 1) Beta readers
- 2) Professional Editors
- 3) Editing for style
- 4) Proofreading and consistency
There are many things that can be said about political thrillers. Primarily, they give the readers interesting insight into local, national, and more often than not, worldwide politics. Secondarily, they remind the readers that no matter how crazy the recent headlines might seem, things could always get worse – especially beyond the surface.
As such, the political thriller genre is one of the most exciting genres out there, where the stakes can encompass the whole world, thereby making the fate of the world depend on a single character’s actions – most often, the protagonist’s, either directly or indirectly.
Political thrillers offer a world of intrigue, excitement, action, and danger, all wrapped up in, and intertwined with, a political plot; or set against the backdrop of a political struggle. It’s one of the most intense genres, even more so than the psychological thriller and horror genres, because while reading a psychological horror might scare the readers, political thrillers make them think – what if this happened in our world? And while that makes for an exciting read, it also makes political thrillers very difficult to write. Difficult, but very rewarding, in the end. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the world of political thrillers!
Part 1: Story and Characters
You can have as many action scenes as you wish: everything from bombings to car chases, helicopter rides, and the like. You can even put your characters in a jungle and have them struggle to survive in the wild. However, unless you create compelling, relatable characters who will shoulder all that action – and the weight of the world at the same time – it will all be for nothing. For that reason, your characters are the primary basis of your story.
The second basis is, of course, the plot, and the third basis is the story, although, the story is the perfect union between the characters, the world, and the plot. However, even the most intricate plot and the most interesting story will fall flat if the characters are not compelling enough. This does not necessarily mean that you need to create perfect Mary Sue’s and Gary Stu’s – characters who are beautiful, perfect, have everything going for them and can get out of any situation. No, what you need are characters that will inspire emotion in the readers – even if those characters are horrible and the inspired emotion is flat out hatred. For that reason, first, we’ll be focusing on the characters and the story itself, while in Part 2, we will talk more about the world building and the plot.
1) Defining the political thriller novel
Or, in other words, what is it, exactly, that makes the political thriller novel different than novels belonging in similar genres?
The basic elements of a political thriller are: a political struggle or intrigue, and an element of danger. The political struggle can be a public one: it can involve media presence, reaction from the masses and the world, and a lot of news manipulation. Or, it can be a subtle struggle between individuals – in this case, individual organizations or characters, depending on the plot and the story, of course. However, if you only have the political intrigue part without the danger, then you will have a political novel, rather than a political thriller novel.
The thriller aspect comes from the danger: personal or general. The best political thrillers will, of course, have both: the protagonist will risk his life and wellbeing (and often, the wellbeing of his or her family too) for the sake of saving a town, a city, a building, or maybe even the world, especially if weapons of mass destruction are afoot.
Depending on the story you are telling, there are a few different paths you can take. Many political thrillers these days come in three different types of novels: standalone, continuous series, or isolated series.
Standalone novels tell a story with a very defined beginning, middle, and end. The protagonist and the characters can be either directly involved in the political plot and the danger (political figures or their assistants), or, they can be loosely related to it and almost stumble upon it by happenstance (in which case, at some point, the stakes have to become personal). Both options offer the chance to continue the story in self-sustained isolated sequels.
Continuous series are a series of novels that tell an overall story, either through episodic installments that, while self-sustained in terms of the plot, have an overarching plot that spans through all of the novels. More often than not, these novels focus on characters and protagonists that are directly involved in a political plot or have a political position, like for example, the protagonist of House of Cards by Michael Dobbs.
Isolated series differ from continuous series only in the overarching plot. These novels are all standalones, and they can often be read out of order. The overarching plot that connects the novels is often more related to the protagonist, or a mystery surrounding the protagonist, rather than a continuous political plot. It is these types of series that often have the most genre overlaps.
2) Genre overlaps
A genre overlap happens when a novel can belong to one, two, or maybe even three different genres. Some genres, of course, are too specific to allow for this to happen: for example, one would never confuse a science fiction novel with a psychological horror one, simply because their respective genre demands are so different. On the other hand, you have romance – which can be literally adapted to any kind of setting, with varying degrees of success, of course.
However, within the thriller genre as a whole, one can have many overlaps between spy thrillers, conspiracy, psychological, and political thrillers. The spy novel is easily considered to be the predecessor of the political thriller, mostly because the plot in a spy novel often deals with themes like war (open or cold war), intrigue, and conspiracy. A good political thriller will not shy away from any of these topics.
Take the James Bond novels, for example. While primarily considered spy novels, many of the books in the series are set against the backdrop of political intrigue, which can easily make them belong in the political thriller genre. This happens because you need two things for a political thriller: the political backdrop and the thriller element, and a spy novel can easily have both.
This genre overlap can often lead to mislabeling a novel – which means that you might get angry readers on the other end, because they might be expecting a spy novel, and get a political thriller instead, and vice versa. To avoid this, make sure that the political intrigue is not just a backdrop that serves the spy story – meaning, if your novel focuses more on espionage, rather than political intrigue, maybe it will need to be labeled differently. On the other hand, if your novel is focused primarily on stakes resulting from a political intrigue – and involves espionage and conspiracy – make sure you do not mislabel it as a spy thriller.
In any event, the most important thing is to tell an exciting story. The good thing about the overlap between these genres is that the audience that enjoys a good spy thriller will also most probably enjoy a political thriller as well, so this overlap might actually work in your favor.
3) Headlines – worthy story
When it comes to the story itself, every writer gets inspired by something different. You might be looking at the news one day, and an idea will flash in your head – a What If that will take you down a rabbit hole of intrigue and danger. And that’s not a bad place to start, when it comes to writing a novel. But that’s not all that a political thriller needs; in fact, drawing directly from the headlines is just going to alienate a lot of readers.
For starters, you don’t want your plot to be too obvious as to where it is going: if a major nuclear bomb is going to go off in 72 hours, and the protagonist needs to find the location of the bomb, who planted it and why, and then he needs to find a way to disarm said bomb before it detonates, we all know how that story is going to end. In a case like this, your novel relies on humor, a relatable protagonist – difficult, when it comes to political thrillers, and a very sinister bad guy who might actually make sense, if he wasn’t so evil, of course. Additionally, if everything revolves around the detonation of a bomb, where is the political intrigue? Who is involved and how would a real life event like that affect the world, and how would it be presented in the news? Moreover, who is responsible?
If you’ve been reading the news recently, and by news, we mean all the other news that are not related to our current worldwide pandemic, you might think, oh, the bad guys are easy here – just make them part of ISIS or their collaborators, maybe with a dash of chaos as a motivation. Or, if you’ve set your book a little bit earlier than modern times but post World War II, you might be tempted to look further east for the villains, and maybe give them very strong Russian accents to boot.
Would a story like that work? Yes, it could. Would it be original and new? Not really, because these types of villains have been present in so many thrillers – not just in political thrillers – that there is nothing more cliché these days.
Take James Patterson’s collaboration with former US president Bill Clinton – The President is Missing – and look at the name of the “bad guys,” an organization called Sons of Jihad, which, actually, makes very little sense as the word jihad is not a person or a prophet, the word jihad can be translated into making war against the enemies of Islam, while the literal translation of the word is actually effort. So essentially, the bad guys in that novel belong to a group called Sons of making war against the enemies of Islam, or Sons of effort.
In other words, grab your idea from the news headlines. That’s just the start. And then give it your own twist. Do not use easy villains like the Russian mafia, KGB, ISIS, or other known terrorist organizations. Create your own, instead. This is your world, you can even go as far as creating a whole different world situation, an alternate Earth in terms of the countries and their politics.
4) Research and real politics
We’ve already discussed how the draw from a political thriller comes from two sides: on one side is the politics, on the other side are the thrills – car chases, timers on bombs set in strategic places, and so forth. The thrills are not that difficult: put your protagonist in danger (in a logical way that serves the plot), and make him both clever and resourceful enough to get out of the traps.
The politics, however, are a bit more complex than that. First, you need to determine just how political the novel is going to be. You can go two different ways: direct involvement, wherein your protagonist needs to be a politician and his actions will have a direct effect over the course of political events. This also demands a political event on the horizon, like an election, to raise the personal stakes for the protagonist (who wants to win the election).
Readers can tell whether you’ve done your research or not. Discover the inner workings of real politics – by observation or by getting information from a proper source. Like in anything, a political struggle can be fought both publicly and privately. When it’s fought publicly, the media is always involved, and there is always a certain amount of news manipulation in order for the opposing parties to get public support or to cripple the other party’s public image. When it is fought privately, it’s a whole different story, and illegal means, like kidnapping and the like, might get involved (which might add the thrill in a thriller!), however, it must be kept in the line of possible reality. Remember, you still want to keep the readers rooted in the real world and present them with how real life politics work. For that reason, it’s highly recommended to research how politics work – both in and outside of a politician’s office and how the media gets involved, especially when the direction of a certain community (town, city, state, country, or the world) is at stake.
5) Creating the cast of characters
All novels practically depend on the protagonist and the cast of characters; meaning, if your characters are dull and not well-rounded, if they do not inspire emotions in the readers, then your novel might easily fail to attract readership and an audience. However, when it comes to political thrillers, this importance is even more pronounced. Oftentimes, political thrillers lack thrills and get bogged down by all the politics the author has decided to include. If such a story revolves around dull characters who have almost nothing to offer beyond being the mouthpieces for the plot or the information that the author wants to convey, then that novel will bore the readers, who will promptly give up on reading it through.
So, how do you begin to create a cast of characters for a political thriller?
You can do it in two different ways. First, you may round the story, and then create a cast of characters who will have specific roles: the protagonist will be John Doe and he will have this skillset to pass through all the obstacles I will place for him, the love interest will be Lana Smith, who is mysterious and falls somewhere between good wife material and a femme fatale, and so forth. However, this method might be exactly the reason why many readers will dislike your novel: it becomes too obvious, especially if you include a child in the mix just to gain the readers’ sympathies.
The second way to go about it is to create the characters first – or, at least, focus on them just as much as you would focus on the plot and the story as a unified whole. For example, if your protagonist is a politician, what is his skillset? How did he achieve his current position? What does he want to achieve in the future? Does he have a family, and if he does, what makes his family special? How have his family members affected him and vice versa?
If he is not a politician, what was his life like and how does he become involved in a political plot? Due to the nature of the political thriller, your protagonist will definitely need a certain skillset that many readers will not have – however, instead of creating a character that is so detached from real life that the readers cannot relate to him at all. And that goes for all of the major players in the novel – even the bad guys and the villains. They too came from somewhere, had a life that shaped them into who they are. As for the minor characters: remember, they’re not just mouthpieces that will deliver crucial information at the right time, they will still have their own voices and mannerisms, even if they only appear once or twice in the novel.
6) Creating the story
If you’re creating the characters and the plot parallel with the story as a unified whole, then there are not many story decisions that you need to take. However, you do need to think about what your story is about, and what the general message of your novel will turn out to be. Oftentimes, even the best intentions can come across negatively if they are viable to be misinterpreted.
This is important because it’s very difficult to not get political in a political thriller novel. Even if your intention and message is ambiguous enough to satisfy most readers, the actual representation of the opposing factions might still get you an angry readership base. For example, let’s say that you are trying to tell a story where there are no good sides and there are few universally good choices, where the protagonist and the villains both make decisions with grave consequences, decisions that might be considered amoral by the average person. Both the protagonist and the villains will be representatives of their groups, in terms of race, gender, skin color, age, and so on. In other words, make sure that you do not play favorites and that you do not preach your own political views in your story, because nothing will alienate the readers more than that.
Part 2: Plot and Structure
In the second part of this guide, we will be talking specifically about the plot: how to structure it, how to create the world you will need for the story, and how to outline the plot in a way that will serve you in the writing process.
Of course, every writer is unique, so take all of the advice here and make it your own. Some of the tips for structuring and plotting the novel might not work for you, especially if you like to write with minimal planning and flying by the seat of the pants, as they say. Whichever writing method you apply in your process of writing a novel, these tips can be adapted and incorporated in it.
1) Structuring the novel
Structuring the novel is a bit different than creating an outline, meaning, when you’re outlining a novel, you can add more details. Structuring the novel is an overview of how the story will progress, how the protagonist will change, and where the protagonist and the major characters are at the beginning of the novel, and where they are at the end. Most importantly, the major players in your novel need to have an aspect of themselves that is going to change by the end of the novel as a result of their actions. Remember, this change needs to be a result of their own actions – and not of the actions of someone else.
As such, the structure of the novel can be done in two different ways. The first type of structure is when the narration focuses on one character only – that would be the protagonist. Often, these types of novels are written in first person point of view, and sometimes even in present tense, rather than the past tense. The effect is quite tremendous, as it puts the readers inside the protagonist’s heads in real time.
The second type of structure can follow more than one point of view. However, remember that even in this case, there is only one protagonist whose actions will be the driving force behind the plot. The other driving force, in both the abovementioned structure and in this one, is, of course, the villain or the antagonist, and remember, a good villain is also an antagonist. To differ between the two, there is always a personal connection between the protagonist and the antagonist, while a simple villain will have very little psychological effect on the protagonist, beyond being villainy and evil.
When you’re following multiple protagonists, it’s more advisable to write in third person point of view rather than first, for the sole reason of having a differing voice. It might be very difficult for the reader to distinguish between the two voices, however, if you’re confident that you can create two very unique voices, then your novel will be all the richer for it.
Another thing to think about when it comes to structuring the novel is rising and falling action. Remember, you’re writing a political thriller, not just a political novel, which is a whole different genre. If you put the most exciting action scenes at the start of the novel, what will happen during the climax to top that? For example, if a bomb is set to go off, the effects of it will be different depending on when it happens during the story. If it happens in the beginning, then there will be casualties and damage, but not on a grand scale. It might serve as an inciting incident that will propel the protagonist into solving the mystery: who’s behind it and why, and if they detonated a bomb now, what are they really planning to do? The story becomes a race against time and a mystery wrapped in political intrigue: who’s behind it, how did they achieve it, and is there a traitor in the ranks of the politician’s staff? On the other hand, if an explosion happens during the climax, then half of a city might get destroyed, which in turn, needs to have its own ramifications, consequences for the people, and repercussions.
Remember the rules of basic story structure. First comes the normal world – in this case, the world of politics and intrigue. The protagonist has a certain role within that world that he or she is familiar with: whether as a politician, a politician’s staff, or a reporter on the other side, or an agent in a governmental agency. Then comes the inciting incident that presents the protagonist with a problem. The protagonist is still human, and humans always strive for the easiest solution to the problem, the one that is bound to produce the fastest and easiest results. And this first solution actually seems like the right choice at the time, and for a while, it seems to be producing results. Until we reach the midpoint of the novel, where the protagonist realizes that something is not right, and that the original problem is still unsolved.
In the meantime, the villain antagonist is also working on his own goals, which often are to prevent the protagonist from solving the problem. In thrillers, this means that the antagonist will constantly put the protagonist in physical danger. If the protagonist goes to investigate the house of a kidnapped person to find clues the kidnappers might have left, then maybe there are a few traps and surprises at the house waiting for them. As the danger increases, and the protagonist gains more information about the problem, the tide shifts, and the right decision looms closer and closer – the real villain is visible on the horizon, the traitor in the ranks is becoming more and more desperate, which makes him easier to manipulate out of hiding. All of that leads to the protagonist making the right decision. And once the protagonist starts acting upon that decision, it all comes to a head in the climax (where explosions might be involved), which leads to the resolution of the story.
2) Building the world
When it comes to political thrillers, the world building is very important. The world touches upon science fiction quite often, because the story might revolve around a new drug that hypnotizes people with specific effects, or a new type of technology that will enable the bad guys to gain political power, destabilize the current political system, or just enable them to cause chaos as a means of weakening a country or a city before staging an invasion and war. Moreover, with the rise of technology in the real world, quite often, modern political thrillers include cyber-attacks and digital warfare.
However, you need to be careful when you’re building your world. First, which organizations are involved, and which countries? This, of course, will depend on the political nature of the story, and whether the stakes are going to involve the world or just a single country or a single city. Second, make sure that the technology you will use, whether in the form of a new drug or a new cyber attack (or both, if a cyber attack on all cell phones in the country will result in hypnotizing a whole nation, for example) is not magic but actual technology. If you cannot find a logical, science based explanation for the tech, then either come up with a different, plausible technology, or mind your t’s and your q’s and do the proper necessary research to be able to explain it all in a plausible, scientific way.
Moreover, the office of a mayor and the office of a president will feature different staff and function in different ways. An election campaign will run differently than a re-election one, and, on top of that, remember that you need to think of two different organizations with opposing goals – or the same goal, if the focus in the novel is actually on an election, where both sides would be aiming to win public support and win.
As such, make sure that even the locations in your novel make sense. For example, a president who is running a re-election campaign might have to travel to different places to make grand speeches, have debates with other candidates, and so forth. This is not something that you can just add or remove from your story – the election itself, as a framework for the plot, demands these events. Of course, if they’re not central to the plot, then find a way to use them to further the story along. However, if you can’t, then consider changing the situation to better match the story you have in mind. Remember, nothing is set in stone, and the world and the political situation you will focus on are meant to serve, rather than hinder, the story.
3) Outlining the plot
Whether you’re going to outline the plot or not depends completely on your own writing method. Some writers have the whole story in mind and just write the first draft of the novel without any outlining whatsoever. These writers usually say that if they know everything that will happen, they lose the desire to discover the story as they write it. In other words, outlining the novel might hinder your excitement for writing it and hinder your process, and maybe even stop it altogether.
However, for other writers, having an outline to follow makes it easier on them to not get lost in the story. The good news is that there are many different ways to outline the plot. The bad news is that there are many ways to get lost in it too. You can go for a surface level outline, where you just outline the chain of cause and effect that connects the story from beginning to end. Or, you can go for an outline that focuses more on the protagonist (and other point of view characters, if you have them in the novel). This type of outline focuses also on the emotional development of the characters – more on that later – and here, you might get bogged down by details about the protagonist and his or her backstory.
Another way to go about it is to develop a very deep outline for every chapter, especially if your novel will feature chapters on the longer rather than the shorter end. In this case, focus on the fact that a scene is comprised of two things: action and reaction.
The action part of a scene is a moment when the protagonist is hoping to gain something: whether it’s through searching someone’s office for clues or evidence, or through a conversation with another character, the protagonist will always have a momentary goal, or a short term goal, that they are hoping to achieve. What can happen in this part of the scene? Well, the protagonist will either achieve the goal – but what he achieved does not really help in the overall problem. The protagonist might get answers – that only lead to more questions.
The reaction part of the scene is the protagonist mulling over what happened, why it happened, and making a choice as to what to do next. It serves as the intro to the next scene, and it ties up the scenes in the link of cause and effect.
You can have as many scenes in a chapter as you need to tell that part of the story. Remember, every chapter has a beat, a point, an achievement that moves the story along into the next chapter.
4) Emotional development and characters’ arcs
All of your major characters, the protagonist, the antagonist and/or villain, need to have emotional development and a character’s arc. Emotional development is when a character changes his or her views and principles during the course of the story. Some of these views can be major, and some of these can be minor changes that imply at a big inner change. The major changes, however, are the focus of the character’s arc.
For example, a naïve protagonist will become more jaded and perceptive during the course of the novel, as a result of the events and his or her actions during the story. Remember, the protagonist is the one who needs to move the story forward. He or she will be the one making the major impactful decisions in the story. That’s what it means for a protagonist to have agency. With proper emotional development, there will be a difference between where the protagonist was at the beginning of the novel, and at the end, and the major characters too.
When it comes to character’s arc, there are three types. Positive, negative, and flat arcs. Positive character’s arcs happen when the protagonist’s views at the start of the novel are largely negative: insecurity, fear, anxiety, and so forth. By the end of the novel, the protagonist is put into situations that require bravery, confidence, and a large dose of courage, in order for the protagonist to succeed in overcoming his obstacles and achieving his goal. By the end of the novel, the protagonist will have changed for the better.
A negative arc happens when the character’s positive views are put on a trial and they fail. For example, if the protagonist trusts too much into an organization or a person, and that trust is shattered. By the end of the novel, the protagonist is disillusioned, disappointed, and he has gone from a positive basis to a negative one.
A flat or a neutral arc happens when the character’s beliefs and principles are put to the test – and they prevail. These beliefs and principles can be both negative and positive. This arc is not about destroying the beliefs; it’s about confirming them.
The protagonist usually gets a positive or a negative character’s arc, and so does the antagonist and/or the villain. Neutral arcs are often reserved for the other cast of characters, especially if the beliefs and principles of said characters’ clash with the views of the protagonist or antagonist.
What’s important to remember is that these arcs happen gradually. That’s why the events of the plot must always have both a direct consequence in terms of the action, and an indirect effect on the character’s and their psyches. For example, if the protagonist is betrayed early on in the novel, by the end of the novel, he will be more apprehensive and less trusting of people, which can lead to the protagonist refusing help when it’s really needed.
5) Raising the stakes
In a political thriller, the climax needs to build up slowly, bit by bit. We’ve already talked about the usual stakes: the future of a country, a town, a city, or a community. Additionally, you need to make it personal for the protagonist, in terms of motivation. He or she needs to have a personal stake in the matter at hand, not just act out of a general altruism to save thousands of people. There needs to be a face among those people, someone the protagonist will care about.
Because of that, a common mistake made in political thrillers is to introduce the highest stakes early on in the novel. For example, let’s say that there is a conspiracy culminating in the assassination of the president. If the protagonist (regardless of the fact whether he’s actually the president or not) discovers this in the first act of the story, then the goal becomes to prevent the assassination and to discover both the direct perpetrators (who are to physically assassinate said president) and the indirect perpetrators (who would have ordered the hit). However, what happens after that? How do you increase the stakes, beyond planting a bomb that would result in massive loss of life? These kinds of progressions are very familiar to the readers, they’re almost a cliché.
On the other hand, if the story begins with an event of a smaller scale, it creates a sense of foreboding without revealing the full stakes so early in the novel. It puts the protagonist in an uncertain situation – something is happening, yes, there is a problem that has to be solved, but there is very little information to go on. Once you add in the danger posed by the actions of the antagonist, it makes the protagonist’s job even more difficult. Each beat of the novel from the introduction to the climax and the resolution has to have bigger stakes, both personal and for the community. From the protagonist’s job being on the line, to his life, or the life of a family member, to the wellbeing of the community.
Part 3: Editing and Publishing
No one ever publishes a first draft – successfully, that is. If you’re going down the route of self-publishing, for example, you might put out the first draft out there, but chances are, there will be many errors on the first page already, which will not convince your potential readers to buy your novel. Because of that, all novels go through extensive editing before publication.
Here, traditional publishing has the advantage, because publishing houses have professional editors on staff who work with the authors to create a very good novel. It is why traditional publishing, to this day, still holds sway over self-publishing, even though it’s relatively easy to self-publish today.
However, regardless of which way you will go about publishing your novel, you need to edit your novel on several fronts.
First, you need to edit it on a macro level: take a good look at your story as a whole, ignore all the spelling errors, and determine whether it works or not. Search for plot holes: if the protagonist could have come to the right decision at the beginning of the novel, then your plot falls apart and needs extensive rewriting.
Second, focus on the pacing: are you tiring the reader with extensive descriptions that do not belong, descriptions of mundane actions that do not really matter to the plot?
I needed to see Maria. So I went and grabbed my keys, put on my shoes, and was out the door in a moment. I walked the three steps to my car, got in, and turned the ignition on. The engine rumbled and died. I turned the key again. The engine coughed a little bit and died again. I looked at myself in the rearview mirror; dark circles marred my eyes, and my face was pallid and sickly. I blinked. I really did not have the time for this.
Neither does the reader. Instead, consider:
Deciding that I had to see Maria in person, I was in my car a moment later, trying to coax the engine into sparking. The engine coughed and spluttered, but refused to start. I don’t have time for this, I thought, and decided to walk to her house.
Maria did not answer her door, even after I rang the doorbell five times…
The first example is 20 words longer than the second one, yet, the second one actually has more action in it than the first one. We skipped over the unimportant actions of grabbing the keys, walking out the door, and so on, only focused on the character’s need to see Maria, the car not working, and the character choosing to walk despite being exhausted. Additionally, the second example also adds in the information that Maria isn’t home after all.
Third, focus on the length of your paragraphs and sentences. Long sentences can be exhausting to read. They slow the pace down, and are a bad decision in action scenes as well. Short sentences imply a quick action, quicker thinking from the protagonist, and read faster.
Additionally, pay very close attention to flashbacks and dream sequences (if you have any). Just like long sentences, flashbacks slow down the story because they take the readers away from the main story and into the past. Flashbacks need to come at the right moment in terms of the pacing (meaning, do not intertwine an action scene with a flashback scene, for example), and the flashback needs to reveal something more than just an event from the protagonist’s past, it needs to reveal something that is also important to the current story you’re telling, whether that is meant to set a precedent for a decision the protagonist will have to make, or to connect an event from the past with the current story.
In this part, we will focus on the editing and publishing processes, which are both just as difficult as writing the novel itself.
1) Beta readers
Beta readers are an important tool to use, even more than professional editors. A good beta reader will catch all the mistakes you might have overlooked. They will let you know whether your story makes sense or not, and whether you have any plot holes. A good beta reader will be able to tell you whether your protagonist is likable, relatable, and sympathetic (if that was your intention). If you’ve created an anti-hero, a good beta reader will tell you whether you’ve hit all the necessary marks. Moreover, they will tell you whether your book needs something more: more humor, more clarity, more descriptions (or fewer), and so on.
You can get beta readers in several different ways. There are beta groups on Goodreads and other social media platforms, to start with. Additionally, there are specific websites dedicated to helping writers find good beta readers who are reliable and trustworthy. What you need in a beta reader is the following:
- they need to enjoy political thrillers;
- they should have beta reading experience (preferably);
- they need to have a quick turnaround (a week or two) to give you their feedback.
Remember, beta readers are not professional editors. Their insight will be purely from a reader’s point of view. Ideally, your beta readers will have read other political thrillers and will let you know whether your ideas are original enough, whether the politics in your story are believable, and whether the action makes sense and can belong in real life and make tomorrow’s headlines.
Whether you get beta readers after you’ve turned your first draft into a decent manuscript (meaning, after the editing process), or before that, depends on you. However, it’s advisable to use beta readers both before and after the editing process, in which case, they will be able to let you know how the story has improved in the process.
2) Professional Editors
Unlike beta readers, professional editors have the capability and experience to review your novel form a writer’s point of view, rather than a reader’s perspective. Your novel will need to be clear, and concise, and the events of the plot need to flow within the link of cause and effect. In other words, your novel needs to be edited for logic and clarity, not just for quality and originality.
Your technology might make sense; but it will not be well done if your writing fails to convey the information in a manner that is clear and easy to understand for the average reader. Your structure might be perfect: you might have a good first act that ends with the protagonist making the wrong choice to solve the problem. You might have a very good second act, where the action rises, the stakes get higher, people are put into danger, and the protagonist has had sufficient development to reach the right decision at the end of the act. And your resolution and climax might be awesome.
Except your first act tops at 50000 words, the second act is merely 20000 words, and the resolution is very long and winded and tops at 40000 words. Meaning, you have all the necessary parts for a novel, but they are mismatched and poorly executed. A good editor will pinpoint these errors, and help you restructure the events in your novel, and your chapters and scenes too, to create a manuscript where the first act is shorter (20000 words or so), the second act is the meat of the story and longer than 50000, and the third act solves everything within the span of 20 to 30 thousand words.
A professional editor will explain where you make mistakes in terms of the writing: whether you’re using sentences that are too long in action scenes, and why that two-page description of the villain’s lair does not really work for the story.
If you’re getting traditionally published, you will have an editor to work with who will do all of the abovementioned things and more. If not, you always have the opportunity to hire freelance professional editors. Beware, however, of scammers and promises that sound too good to be true. Unlike a beta reader, a professional editor will need a bit more time to comb through your novel than a week or two.
3) Editing for style
Your writing style will really come into light if you are using multiple points of view to tell the story. If all of the characters sound the same, your readers will feel the need to check all the time who is talking (if you’re using first person point of view). And even if you’re writing in third person point of view, there should be a difference in the way your sentences are conveyed. The character’s voice should come through, especially if it’s third person limited point of view.
Another opportunity to avoid the need for different writing styles (beyond just using a single protagonist’s point of view), is to have an omnipresent narrator. In this case, the narrator is almost a separate character – unseen and unheard by the characters in the story – who is free to tell the story in their own way.
In general, what you need to look out for specifically are repeated words and repeating phrases. Even if a character has a catchphrase that they constantly think or say, use it sparingly and in special moments that justify its use.
Moreover, go through your manuscript and determine whether your writing is consistent. If you’re writing in first person point of view, does the character sound the same in each chapter? Or does he seem like an academic when the story requires it, and becomes a jokester in the next chapter? Would your character really think those words, or would he think in a different manner? Even if you’re using a narrator instead of a limited point of view, does the narration have significant changes in sentence construction and descriptions? If yes, then you need to do some extensive rewrites to create a consistent style throughout the novel.
4) Proofreading and consistency
Nothing can ruin a novel worse than misspelled words, and getting a character’s name, height, or eye color wrong. Because of that, you need to comb through the novel meticulously, paying attention to every detail and every word. It’s easy to confuse word with world, and many word processing programs will not detect it, because they usually detect misspelled worlds, rather than wrong words.
Moreover, make sure that the details about the characters, buildings, cars, and even everyday objects, remain consistent in the novel (for example, a blue pen should not become red in the next chapter, unless it’s a different pen entirely). To help with this, you might want to create a sort of “Bible” where you will write down the physical description of the characters (all of them, even the minor vendor who only appears twice in the novel). Additionally, add in the descriptions of the places your protagonist will visit, houses, offices, living rooms, bedrooms, buildings, elevators, and so on. Having a bible like that will help you comb through your novel and make sure that every detail is correct. Nothing marks an amateur writer faster than misspellings, wrong words, and inconsistencies relating to characters and places in the novel.
As easy as it might seem these days, publishing a novel successfully can be quite difficult. Oh, it’s easy to publish digitally these days, but therein lies the problem: anyone can do it, as long as they have a manuscript and internet access.
Beware of sites that offer to publish your novel online. They might ask for the rights, and offer nothing in return. Moreover, they often publish novels without a professional editor even looking at them (even if they promise an editor on staff), which means your novel will be lumped with a lot of other mediocre, unedited novels. You have a better chance of publishing successfully by yourself in comparison.
If you’re publishing the traditional way, start with getting the right agent for you. Research agents who work with political thriller authors, and send them query letters. Beware of scammers: no agent asks for money to read your novel. If they do, they are trying to scam you. The agent should then find the right publishing house for you, or, at least, which publishing houses will be the right ones for you. If the agent is good at their work, and have a lot of pedigree, they might even be able to attract several publishing houses.
If you’re publishing on your own, work on your online presence. Have a Goodreads account as a writer, create official social media accounts as well, and just be present without being overbearing. Review other author’s works. Participate in groups where advertising novels is encouraged. Do not self-promote unless it’s allowed within the guidelines of an online group. Moreover, when you’re publishing digitally, there are a lot of tools you can use, like targeted advertising and offering a deal on your novel. This can be helpful if you’re a debut self-published author, however, be prepared to spend your money, because advertising is expensive, even when it produces results.
And finally, make sure that your political thriller has the best of both worlds: it has a political intrigue intertwined with a thrilling plot. Make sure that your story is good enough to make the readers think: Oh my God, what if this really happens tomorrow?
Remember, it is not your job to preach your political views in your political thriller, your job is to tell a gripping story that will actually offer a bit of escapism to the readers, rather than plunge them in today’s politics.
Georgina Roy wants to live in a world filled with magic. As a screenwriting student, she is content to fill notebooks and sketchbooks with magical creatures and amazing new worlds. When she is not at school, watching a film or scribbling away in a notebook, you can usually find her curled up, reading a good urban fantasy novel, or writing on her own.