The idea of putting real events into a novel of any genre can produce different responses in writers. Some might say ‘isn’t that a cop-out?’ Or ‘won’t that date my story?’ Well, not only did I build my bestselling thriller ‘Patriot’ around a real event in the future, but I also used debate about that event to inform my plot, the actions of my characters and ultimately many of the ideas within the story.
This event is the planned drawdown of US troops from Afghanistan in 2016. Not only is that due to happen almost three years after the publication of ‘Patriot’, the discussion about this on news networks throughout that time is keeping the subject of my book topical in people’s – and therefore potential readers’ – minds.
But I didn’t stop there. I also used other ‘real’ things that happen periodically, such as solar flares affecting telecommunications, or the hijacking of private motor yachts by Somali pirates. These happen more than once, so they don’t really date (unless 50 years from now, there are no Somali pirates!)
Using topical news in your book can also be kept fresh by keeping the themes big. The main theme in Patriot is terrorism; something that has been with us since the dawn of civilised society, but which is certainly recognizable to most people from the 1970’s onwards in particular. This allows readers to connect to the your story at a much deeper level; they sub-consciously drawn on a well of knowledge and put it in context for themselves.
Maybe readers have their own opinions about those events, too. The role of the US and her allies in Afghanistan has been the subject of much debate over the past few years. Giving this topic its own role in your book can create fresh ways of approaching the debate, it can also be thought provoking, without being dry or even taking a particular point of view. My heroine, Brooke, gets in so many scrapes there isn’t much time for the readers to draw breath, let alone ponder issues of geo-political significance. But, maybe after the book is finished, there is more to reflect on, as some reviewers have commented.
Ultimately, it takes skill and substantial amounts of research to incorporate real events into a novel. I hope that I’ve shown in Patriot how it can be done without falling into any bear-traps (although there is an actual bear in the story) and hopefully, kept my novel both fresh and engaging.