1 Write your story statement:
Uncover the secret of Germany’s new weapon
2 In 200 words or less, sketch the antagonist or antagonistic force in your story. Keep in mind their goals, their background, and the ways they react to the world about them:
The German secret service, and a traitor in their pay, drive the plot. The inciting incident is an attempt by a British aviator, Vanderwall, to understand the secret of a new German weapon; that fails, but he follows up by infiltrating enemy lines to continue his hunt. First the Germans disguise themselves to track the hero to see what he knows, then they shift gears to stop his investigations, and finally, once the hero has uncovered the secret, escalate to killing and torturing his allies and trying to kill him as their desperation to stop Vanderwall increases.
Rautter presents as the German leader, an urbane linguist who initially disguises himself as an arms dealer. Brigitte morphs from courtesan to a sadistic knife-wielding assassin. The traitor is an engineer who slows development of the British alternative, feeds information to the Germans, and in the end gets the closest to killing the hero.
3 Create a breakout title (list several options, not more than three, and revisit to edit as needed).
The Interrupter Gear
Weapon of War
4 Develop two smart comparables for your novel. This is a good opportunity to immerse yourself in your chosen genre. Who compares to you? And why?
This is a historical or espionage thriller. The story draws on themes and ideas from the first generations of British thrillers, told with a modern sensibility and cinematic style, strong women characters, and a realistic approach to violence, sex and drugs.
In that context it fits with:
Robert Harris, most recently V2 (Knopf Doubleday 2020), a historical thriller set in 1945 which shares the idea of a plot built around true secret weapon. His earlier Dreyfus book, AN OFFICER AND A SPY, adapted for a recent film, is set in close to time of this work, in the 1890s/1900s.
Ian McGuire THE ABSTAINER (Random House 2020), set in the 1860s, which shares the strong sense of setting and place, along with a protagonist faced with uncovering traitors and disguised assassins.
5 Write your own hook line (logline) with conflict and core wound following the format above. Though you may not have one now, keep in mind this is a great developmental tool. In other words, you best begin focusing on this if you're serious about commercial publication.
1915: A pilot searches behind enemy lines for Germany’s secret weapon, dodging double agents, femmes fatales, and deadly electric fences.
1915: A British aviator infiltrates enemy lines hunting for the secret of the weapon that has, overnight, turned the tide of the air war in Germany’s favor
6.1 Sketch out the conditions for the inner conflict your protagonist will have. Why will they feel in turmoil? Conflicted? Anxious? Sketch out one hypothetical scenario in the story wherein this would be the case--consider the trigger and the reaction.
Anxious, Inexperienced, Betrayed. Vanderwall has no experience as a spy, and while he certainly is the clay for the role (languages, multi-cultural background, observant), it takes time for him to be molded into an independent operator. This inexperience leaves him anxious and wary of making mistakes, potentially, or actually, fatal to him or others.
Vanderwall is forced to rely on others for key elements of his journey, especially crossing borders, and while he is in enemy territory. He knows he is exposed at those times and often can’t tell if he is being followed or has already been betrayed. That forces him to rely on his own network, rather than those who, by rights, ought to be on his side.
6.2 Next, likewise sketch a hypothetical scenario for the "secondary conflict" involving the social environment. Will this involve family? Friends? Associates? What is the nature of it?
The hero has a Dutch father, which sets him apart from his brothers in arms. This sets up a default that he is not quite at the same level as his compatriots. Worse- the original designer of the secret weapon is also Dutch (something Vanderwall is able to use to his advantage later in the book). Paralleling this Vanderwall falls into the middle of a rivalry between two different British security services (we are very early in the history of military intelligence, and politics are rife). This culminates in the hero being arrested by his own side, an incident which sets up the last, climactic attempt by the Germans to stop him.
7 Sketch out your setting in detail. What makes it interesting enough, scene by scene, to allow for uniqueness and cinema in your narrative and story? Please don't simply repeat what you already have which may well be too quiet. You can change it. That's why you're here! Start now. Imagination is your best friend, and be aggressive with it.
Northern Europe in 1915. World War I. There are multiple levels to the setting here- the period, the language and the physical locations.
The period drives some of the character interactions and an overall sense of the shifting from stiff upper lip Victorian convention towards the modern world. The norm-destroying realities of the world’s first total war are revealed in the scenes at the Front as well as in louche nightclubs and opium dens.
There are distinct language voices in the story- upper- and lower-class English, and, translated but differentiated, official German and colloquial French and Dutch, each of which is used to take the reader further into the setting and place of the story.
The story moves from France to England, then Holland and Germany. Important locations include:
Northern France, an aerial dogfight- the secret weapon is revealed
No-man’s-land- exposing the abject horror of war
Officer’s bordello- a different set of dangers (these Blue Light houses were lost to history until a set of photographs were published in 2015)
London briefing rooms- smoke filled rooms, early in the development of military espionage
Louche night club- sex, drugs, and rock n roll in 1915? Not quite- but much closer than one might expect
Steam-era armaments factory- leveraging the author’s professional experience understanding how a factory works end-to-end
A port town in England- Edward VII entertained his mistress there, will our hero have a similarly pleasant night?
Rotterdam- the spy mecca of world war one
The Wire of Death- a deadly trap, that preventing people crossing from Holland to German-occupied Belgium
Hamburg- bankers’ offices, then opium dens and the Reeperbahn in war time.
A German plane factory- the hero has to investigate the Fokker plant to understand how the secret weapon works- how can he infiltrate the well-guarded factory and escape with the evidence he finds?
The North German countryside and German Dutch border- The hero disguises himself as a soldier to leave Germany, but still has to work his way through farms and woods to escape across a border guarded by both the Germans and Dutch.
The Strand- the final gunfight takes place in an iconic street, with the hero dodging trams and traitors in London’s smog.