Monday, November 18, 2013

Context, Outlines and Character Mutiny: Bernard Besson

Today I welcome French Thriller writer Bernard Besson. Bernard Besson is the author of the recently published The Greenland Breach, a cli-fi spy novel that has environmental catastrophe, geopolitical stakes, freelance spies and Bond-like action. He is a former top-level official in French intelligence and a prizewinning thriller writer. The English translation was published on October 30 by Le French Book, a digital-first publisher specializing in best-selling mysteries and thrillers from France.


Writing a novel is full of surprises. Before I start writing, I explore current geopolitical situations, which offer a wealth of potential topics. I choose what I call the “context” for the story, which in the case of The Greenland Breach is global climate change. From there, I invent credible characters that could act in the context either as politicians, company leaders, members of the military, religious leaders, scientists, doctors or engineers, for example. I imagine how people living in a same country or in different places around the planet will enter into conflict with each other, or help each other on the sly, which in terms of plotting is the same.

The main idea at this stage is to invent men and women anchored in the real world. The story will rise from the relationships—good or bad—that the characters have among themselves. I sometimes use chance as it occurs in real life so that unexpected bonds can develop that will surprise the reader. I like surprises. I need there to be conflict and love. This has been the basis of stories since Homer recounted the Iliad and the Odyssey.

My next step is to invent an ending and a trigger. When I have these two tips of the chain, I build a very detailed outline that mostly serves to reassure me. In the past, I’ve experienced failures and had publishers reject manuscripts, so I don’t start any writing work lightly. The outline can be at least 100 pages long for a novel that will end up being 350 pages.

 I start writing with the trigger, which could be a crime or a disaster, some event that is out of the ordinary. I have learned to show rather than tell, so readers don’t get bored. I tell my story, based on my outline.

But rather quickly, one of my characters will refuse to play along with my plan. It’s annoying and a little stressful. However, I know that eight times out of ten the character is right. I change the outline. Later, a secondary character will become more important than I expected. I try to understand why and often follow what that character is suggesting, but it can mean that I have to change the outline again. I start sweating and go for a walk or a swim. Then, further on in the story, I realize that some characters aren’t advancing the plot anymore. I get my revenge by eliminating them, which adds action.

So basically, writing can be described as having my characters destroy my outline. There is a conflict between them and my pretentions to be a demiurge. Take The Greenland Breach. At first, it was supposed to last a year and a half. My characters helped me to understand that I’m not in the process of writing a boring lecture on North Pole geopolitics. They reduced the story to a few days. They also reined in my ambitions and got rid of a bunch of useless things that I wanted to explain to the reader. In the end, all the research I did served mostly to keep me from making mistakes in the science.

The Greenland Breach, by Bernard Besson and Julie Rose (translator) The Arctic ice caps are breaking up. Europe and the East Coast of the United States brace for a tidal wave. Meanwhile, former French intelligence officer John Spencer Larivière, his karate-trained, steamy Eurasian partner, Victoire, and their bisexual computer-genius sidekick, Luc, pick up an ordinary freelance assignment that quickly leads them into the glacial silence of the great north, where a merciless war is being waged for control of discoveries that will change the future of humanity. 

The Greenland Breach is available for $4.99 as an ebook for the entire holiday season from LeFrenchBook.  You can also pre-order a print copy.

1 comment:

1LLoyd said...

"writing can be described as having my characters destroy my outline"

Love that description, and the idea.