Plotting After Powder Burn - Part 2

In a blog called Plotting After Powder Burn I talked about the search for a plot for my fifth novel, which would be the second in a series starring American wannabe-journo, Sam Blackett. I’d always had a particular story in mind for this second book, but I was worried that it had similarities to my 'Janac's Games' stories, and I felt I should make a break from those boat-and-action dominated tales.

I was concerned that the second book should be more urban, and more of an investigation than an action thriller. I went off to find out what Lee Child did with Jack Reacher in books one and two, as this series is the model for the Sam Blackett stories. Well, it took a while - and there's been a few blogs floated under the bridge on other topics since then - but I'm finally back to thinking about plotting after Powder Burn.

I can report that Lee Child started the Jack Reacher series with Killing Floor, written in the first person about a counterfeiting fraud set in a small town in Georgia, and mixing action with investigation. He followed that up with Die Trying, which switched to the third person but maintained the mix of action and investigation.

Powder Burn is mostly action with the mystery-element relegated to a relatively minor role - and so I think I definitely need to introduce more of an investigative storyline to the Sam Blackett series in the second book. I've also thought a lot about the milieu for this story and I now feel even more strongly that I should try and find an urban setting for the book, to help me break out of the ghetto of 'sailing author' that I fear I'm in danger of drowning in...

So far so good - now any decent investigation needs a murder, preferably linked to a serious criminal conspiracy. I've been casting around for just such a conspiracy and I think I've found it. There's always been a huge market in counterfeit aircraft parts; they look and feel like the real thing, but are often made much more cheaply from sub-standard materials with low-cost manufacturing techniques. Consequently, they don't have anything like the same life span as the real deal.

This fact might worry you if you fly a lot, but while the safety hazards of this fake parts trade has been well known for a while, there now appears to be a national security risk too - the trade has spread to military aircraft. This is the sort of criminal conspiracy a good thriller needs - a gang plotting to make a fortune from selling fake parts to the USAF for the F-22 Raptor, the planet's most expensive fighter?

Or, maybe it's drone parts - these things are much more controversial (anyone been watching Homeland?) and that might really ramp the story up. It also plays into a theme I've been thinking about for a while: Western military supremacy relies on cheap and effective offensive dominance. It used to be gunboats, and machine guns against spears. These tools provided such a massive military advantage that they enabled the use of force at a minimal cost of lives - vitally important to politicians in a democracy.

The drone strike is the modern version of this, allowing the US to use swift and brutal violence at zero (direct risk) of US casualties. So what if the fake parts conspiracy threatened the drones, and this politically vital means of applying American power in the hot spots of the world? I can feel my story juices already starting to flow...

At the very least this is a good starting point - the next step is to work out how Sam Blackett might stumble into this conspiracy... but perhaps I should end the 'Plotting After Powder Burn' blogs right here, before I spoil the final book for you!

Any feedback is much appreciated, and you can find me online at:






Susan Price said…
Democracy - cheap annd effective offensive dominance at a minimum cost of 'our' lives - realpolitik! Thanks, Mark, for a post that gave me a lot to think about.
Lydia Bennet said…
on R4 the other day there was a report about drone operators, that they get bored doing nothing and then can make a mistake when action kicks off. I suppose one could make a terrible 'mistake' in targeting, get the blame, but it might be something to do with duff parts instead, being covered up? I think your plot idea has legs/wings.Re your sailing settings I think you might consider staying with these as they can be your usp, lots of writers have urban settings for action. hope you don't mind me saying this, if you stick with urban I'm sure it'll be great.
Lydia Bennet said…
re using Lee Child for a model, this is a bit ironic! I met and talked to Lee while I was taking part in harrogate crime fest. In his event, he said 'if you can see a bandwagon, you've already missed it.' He said he'd made his 1st book deliberately as unlike as poss to those v successful at the time: one decision he made to be different was to set each book in a difft place with a hero who keeps moving, as everybody else seems to have a special place (which most of us readers like, btw). This is very unusual but in fact would suit a sailing or flying hero as well as a drifter like Jack R. for those who've not seen him in person, Lee's a very impressive speaker and very like an academic version of Jack!
Jan Needle said…
Off the top of my enfeebled memory, didn't Arthur Miller write a terrific play called All My Sons about duff parts in military aircraft killing the 'wrong' people? I think I heard it on the radio, and it was very gripping. Might be worth a read. He was a great plotter when he wanted to be.
julia jones said…
does sailing author = a ghetto or a USP? Discuss Interesting post Mark. So hard to be different yet the same. Interesting and creatively adventurous yet retaining an identity. Have to admit that I rather cherish your sailing author aspects but the new idea sounds well worth working out. Am cudgelling own brain in a not dissimilar way

Mark Chisnell said…
Wow, loads of great feedback!

For a long while I thought the sailing was my USP, in the way that horse racing was Dick Francis' - but there are too many reviews on Amazon for The Defector saying how they loved the book, until the sailing at the end...

Added to too many writers who have failed with the sailing settings - anyone remember Bernard Cornwell's sailing books?

The main thing I want to borrow from Lee Child is Reacher's mobility - still not too many people doing that. But I will have a very different hero, female, younger, and a lot less prone to extreme violence - hopefully she's not on a bandwagon yet...

And Jan, you're right about the Arthur Miller play - I'll take a look;

Thanks everyone :-)

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