As someone who’s always enjoyed reading stuff on psychology, I naturally assumed I would be at an advantage when it came to writing a psychological thriller. However, there’s a big difference between knowing about a subject and researching it in depth.
Take memory, for instance. In my second novel, the central character has no recollection of a significant event in his childhood. During the course of the story, a series of triggers causes the character to experience flashbacks of the event.
So what’s wrong with that?
The subject matter can easily become a cliché. Aside from that, the memory loss, along with the later flashbacks, must have a plausible explanation. In a previous draft, one of the viewpoint characters supplied the explanation for the loss of memory: the central character had received a blow to the head during the childhood incident.
However, memory loss due to brain injury is often, if not always, permanent, ruling out the possibility of flashbacks at a later stage, except perhaps for in exceptional circumstances. Similarly, certain drugs can prevent the brain from storing memories in the first place.
To address this, I’ve had to change the focus of the story and concentrate on the forensic history and less on actual flashbacks, although the odd fleeting recollection probably helps drive the story forward. It has also meant delving deep into the plot and allowing each characters’ motives and conflicts to determine the outcome. This brings me back to a point I made in an earlier post: back story should be as relevent and as thought out as the present day action – and, of course, as accurate in terms of resarch.