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Guest Column

The Story Engine: Imagining and Creating My First Novel
By Kelvin Kwa
Jan 7, 2016 - 4:33:02 AM

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Apex Predator as a novel is made up of hundreds of ideas woven around a plot, with its inception from a base concept fuelled by enthusiasm, pride, imagination and stubbornness, my wife's boot to my ass notwithstanding. The point is: one idea alone doesn't fill a 650 page novel.

See what I did there? I casually mentioned that Apex Predator is a big, chunky book that gives more bang for your buck. A little shameless, I know but also useful if you decide to read on.

It began with a craving; not for food but for a certain kind of story: a good sea-monster yarn. After going through quite a few books, I found that aside from the early works of Peter Benchley and more recently, Steve Alten, other works in this particular genre were disappointing. Eventually I concluded that if I really wanted to read a novel to my liking, I'd have to write it myself.

One day, under the influence of a pounding headache and doped up to the gills, the idea of a hunter-hunted dynamic between the modern firepower of a nuclear submarine and an ancient creature of myth set deep inside the polar icecap came to me in a fever dream.

The heart and soul of good fiction are its characters. The reader must care about the people in the book. A back story, a relevant but significant character flaw or weakness, gives way to a change of heart or an atypical act of courage. Suddenly you're hooked. Among the rich diversity of personalities are the following: A conflicted hero in Captain Cartaneo, a first officer on the edge of mutiny in Rudi Jessen, a Machiavellian secret agent: Greg Cole, an aging warrior Chief Carter Bohem and the honourable enemy in Colonel Xiang. When a story teller wants to be unpredictable, wants to twist, surprise, break the rules, these are the canvas. To set the readers expectations, choose an initial locale but never stay in one place. After all, no one wants to see the tightrope walker perform his act two feet off the ground. Setting is critical. Environment, global warming, terrain become characters in themselves. Then there's the sea-monster.

Audrey Hepburn once said, 'Everything I learned, I learned from the movies.'

My inspirations for this book were Tom Clancy's Hunt for Red October and Peter Benchley. However, many of the elements of the story, the pacing, cinematic stylization, the suspense, the character development; the monster itself, all that came from watching Steven Spielberg's movie interpretation of Jaws.

Size the creature by its prey. The reader experiences the monster from the victim's perspective; eaten alive, they feel the teeth grinding into flesh, jaws moving, they want the monster's focused attention. A beast that's too big just scoops them up and swallows them like a crouton. Where's the fun in that?

From Lovecraft: Don't show the whole monster. Imply size; give the hint of leathery flesh, a shadow and glowing red eyes. Then let the reader take the idea and run with it to a place more frightening than the author could ever describe.

Just because you're in a nuclear submarine with an array of modern weaponry and tactics at your disposal doesn't mean victory is assured. The scales will always tip in favour of the nemesis. Environment, speed, ruthless savagery, mystery and hubris play their part.

Credit the beast with human traits, intellect and cunning. The most frightening malevolence is always the evil we see in ourselves.

No good plan survives the first thirty seconds of battle. The hero comes up with a plan to kill the creature and things go sideways almost immediately. If they do triumph, it is only by some twist of fate. But nothing ever goes to plan.

Now we come to the big finish. Here I apply what I call: The Exhaustion Principle.

This principle has one stated goal: to run the reader ragged. To that end, a single continuous action sequence spanning several chapters pits the hero against insurmountable odds on a tight time limit requiring inhuman endurance and stamina. The trick is to maintain relevance. My high school teacher once told me: Every word, every character on the page must have a point. Every explosion, every punch thrown, every car you flip must have purpose to the plot or character development. This is how you keep the audience engaged.

I also like to transition through various stages: change the sequence by moving the hero(s) from an escape to a car chase, then a race against time culminating in a life and death struggle. Mix it up, have multiple things happen at the same time, but always; maintain relevance.

My classification of Apex Predator's genre is Science Fiction Military Techno-thriller. The 'Science Fiction' part is primarily the sea-monster although the story is set in the near future, featuring technology and environmental conditions extrapolated from current events. Nothing in my background qualifies me as an expert on any of the military or scientific aspects of the book...but I am a good liar. I have a knack of making things sound plausible. After all, what is fiction but a good lie with an exit strategy?

At its heart, Apex Predator is suspense, action and adventure. As enjoyable for me to write as I hope it is for you to read.

Kelvin Kwa
Author of "Apex Predator"

Kelvin Kwa
is a Microsoft certified professional with a diploma in computing and applied physics. His love of technology, mythology and fantasy has led to years of collecting and reading. Kwa is a husband and a father living near Melbourne, Australia. "Apex Predator" is his first book. For more information go to Kelvin

"Apex Predator"
By Kelvin Kwa
CreateSpace Ind. Publishing
Published December 2013
ISBN: 978-1-49902-442-5
670 pages
Softcover $29 at Amazon (Different cover)
E-book $6 Kindle at Xlibris Publishing

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