Monday, October 23, 2017

The Spy Genre: The Secret Struggle for the Magic It

According to Robert McKee’s excellent book on screenwriting, you can’t write in a particular genre until you understand the conventions and elements that it demands. This is one of the reasons writers who strive to improve their craft benefit from reading the work of others in their genre.

In developing my Crime and Passion Universe, I also created my own understanding of the elements of the spy thriller genre. I’d like to share this concept here (along with pertinent examples where I can find them) in the hopes that it will help increase your appreciation of both the spy fiction specifically and the creation of genre fiction in general.

The Elements of Spy Fiction
Based on my exposure to classic and modern spy fictionthere are three fundamental elements that can be described simply as the secret struggle for the magic it. I’ll break down these concepts to make them more understandable:
  1. The “Magic It”: There is a person, object, or piece of information that drives the story. Whatever this “it” happens to be, it is so important that people are willing to kill and risk their lives for it. For example, in Skyfall the “magic it” starts off as a list of undercover agents (information). In Spy Game, the “magic it” is the spy held in the Chinese prison that is scheduled to be executed (person). In The Hunt for Red October, the “magic it” is a rogue nuclear submarine (very large object).
  2. The Opposing Groups: There are at least two people, agencies, or countries struggling to acquire whatever the “magic it” happens to be. For example, in Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy the opposing groups are the British Secret Service and Moscow Center. In La Femme Nikita the opposing groups are Covert One and Red Cell, while The Bourne Identity pits rival factions within the CIA itself as the opposing groups.
  3. The Secret Struggle: For reasons that are inherently logical to the story, the opposing groups need to keep their conflict hidden from the outside world. This is what separates spy fiction from most mysteries, thrillers, and legal or police suspense novels. Both the protagonist and the antagonist work from the shadows, employing similar techniques of stealth and deception. In many spy classics, it is often difficult to tell who the “good” and “bad” guys are based purely on what they do. This gray area is one of the elements that make stories like The Gentleman’s GameRain Fall and Ronin so compelling. The definitions of right and wrong often boil down to malleable issues of money, ideology, coercion, and excitement.

Applying the Elements to My Own Work

The premise of Dark Honey involves a young spy trying to find, fix, and finish a traitor to her mission of stopping sex slavery. The “Magic It” here is a person who happens to be her former mentor and lover (creating multiple sources of inherent conflict). There are two opposing groups; one group of spies trying to catch the target and another group of spies trying to protect him. Both groups need to use secrecy and deception in an international game of cat and mouse. By creating Dark Honey to satisfy the elements of spy thrillers, I built a stronger narrative that can hopefully appeal to the people who devour this genre every year in books, TV shows, and movies.

So what are the elements of your favorite fictional genre? How do your favorite books capture or transcend the conventions of the genre and redefine them? Let me know what you think in the comments, and if my premise is interesting to you, join my Kickstarter to get your copy of Dark Honey and all the other books in the world of Crime and Passion.

Have fun.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Gamal Hennessy's Portfolio

Words have the power to connect people and I have spent years making those connections for my clients.

It doesn’t matter if I’m writing a piece on the legal aspects of the entertainment industry or an international crime story.

It could be a short as a tweet or as long as a novel.

The results are are the same.

I always bring a professional and passionate perspective to my work.

Please feel free to browse the links below to sample my work. If you want to put my words to work for you, please use the contact form on the right or send an email to

Writing on Business
  1. Profit and Loss Statements for Independent Publishers
  2. So How Much Does It Cost to Publish a Book?
  3. Understanding the Difference between Gross Profits and Net Profits
  4. Is Diversity Killing Marvel Comics?
  5. Do We Have Too Much Comics Based Entertainment?

Writing on Law
  1. How to Get Your Clients to Pay You
  2. How to Hire a Lawyer
  3. How to Reject a Bad Contract
  4. Image and Story: Understanding Copyrights and Trademarks
  5. Negotiating Power in Creative Contracts

Writing on Writing
  1. Analysis of Story Structure: The Chapter
  2. Consequential Violence: The Impact of Combat in Fiction
  3. Creating a Story Using the Three Levels of Conflict
  4. Improving on Perfection: How to Edit Your Novel
  5. Reading Lists for Writers

Have fun.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Best American Erotica 1993: A Book Review

By Gamal Hennessy

From my perspective, Susie Bright is a luminary in the genre of erotic fiction. Not only has she written, edited, and published several books on the subject over the years, her writing guide How to Write a Dirty Story has been an inspiration for all six of the novels I’ve written. I’ve wanted to read her first anthology The Best American Erotica 1993 for years, so when it went on sale on Audible, I downloaded  it as soon as I could. Unfortunately, my experience was less than ideal.

The book does have positive qualities. First, there is a wide array of authors who contributed short stories to this collection and the range of erotic expression is very diverse. LGBT, straight and BDSM flavors are all mixed and represented here. Characters of different ages, ethnic backgrounds, nationalities and economic realities all get time in the spotlight. And the range of sexual expression is also broad. Some characters fully explored their passions, others lost their chance just before they could attain satisfaction, and some struggled to repress or deny the only thing they couldn’t stop thinking about.

But all the stories shared similar flaws. The stories had little or no turning points, no crisis choice that the characters had to make to expose their true nature or alter their condition. They were unchanged from the beginning of the story to the end, and the sexual experiences they had (or didn’t have) did nothing to bring about change in their lives. What they did was on full display. Why they did it or how it defined them was always left out.

It doesn’t have to be that way in erotica or any other genre. We only have to look at the short stories in Delta of Venus, Night in a Moorish Harem or Erotic Interludes to see that sexual expression can be the catalyst for change in a character’s life. Of course, not every sexual encounter alters our existence, but when every story in a collection lacks that element, the whole book suffers.

In terms of the overall presentation of the audio book it’s also a mixed experience. The readers of each piece were very good and their voices matched the nature of the narrator well. However, most of the sex in this book skews towards the nonconsensual. There is diversity here too, as the scenarios range from lack of consent to rape and sustained torture. If you don’t enjoy those types of stories the book might be hard to get through.

Overall, I appreciated the diversity of Best American Erotica, but the stories themselves didn’t satisfy. The series continues for several more volumes, so perhaps the first one can be seen as a viable proof of concept.

Have fun.                                                                      

Monday, November 30, 2015

Creating Story by Using the Three Levels of Conflict

If I can write a book, you can write a book. This article just offers a few tips to help you explore your own creative gifts.

When writing, I’ve always found it helpful to understand the vast majority of all fictional plots boils down to a struggle to achieve a goal. A protagonist or hero has an object of desire that is material or situational. Maybe they want to get a rare item or get into a relationship with a particular person. To get what she wants, your heroine has to exert effort against everything that stands between her and her goal. The power and intensity of her obstacles will define both your heroine and the strength of your story. But where do those obstacles come from and how can we build them into the story in a way that tests the heroine in the most satisfying manner for readers?

I’ve found one answer in playing with the different levels of conflict.

Three Levels of Conflict
A level of conflict is a source of antagonism that stands between your protagonist and their goal. Robert McKee's book Story defines three major levels of conflict:
  • Internal: where the thoughts, feelings or physical characteristics of a protagonist block achievement of the goal
  • Interpersonal: where relationships with other people or groups block achievement
  • Extra-personal: where institutions, natural phenomenon and situations block achievement

As an example, let's say you're writing a story about a Jewish boy living in Jerusalem. He has just seen a beautiful Arab girl and in that moment realizes he’s in love. What obstacles does Adam face in his quest for a relationship? As a writer, you have several options:
  • Internal: His shyness, lack of experience with women and unattractive features could get in the way of his budding romance. 
  • Interpersonal: The girl might resist his advances for her own reasons, or she might have a boyfriend who wants to remove him from the picture. Also, his parents could try to prevent him from getting involved with an Arab girl. The girl's brothers might threaten him with violence.  His own friends might reject him.
  • Extra-personal: The wider Arab Israeli conflict could also inhibit our hero. Hezbollah bombings into the settlements could disrupt Adam's life or create a curfew situation. A suicide bomb could destroy everything or even kill the girl. Protests, strikes or other mass social events could tear their relationship apart before it even gets started.

This is just a few examples of what this boy might be up against. If he is able to win this girl's love, the obstacles he'll have to overcome could make an amazing story.

The type you choose is often a function of genre. An action adventure might have heavy interpersonal and extra personal conflict when the hero battles the arch villain on the top of a mountain in a blinding snow storm, but very little internal conflict. A cozy mystery might have strong internal focus as the detective quietly strains her intellect to solve the crime. Every style of writing can tap into each type of conflict, but some genres lend themselves to specific conflict types.

Conflict as Spotlight

The best way I've found to develop conflict in my work is to focus on the aspects of my protagonist that I want to reveal and then creating conflicts that explore those traits. One of my main characters in my new novel Smoke and Shadow is a man named Harrison Trent. At the most basic level, Harrison’s conflict is internal. He wants to forget the mistakes he’s made in his past and he is willing to place himself in extreme danger because the immediacy of a life and death struggle is the only way he can forget the things he’s done. To show his dedication to this goal, I put several obstacles in his path every time he steps into the readers mind.

The best stories have the strongest conflicts. While it's not necessary to throw every obstacle at every character in every story, a weak story is most often the result of weak antagonists. Pit your heroine against the strongest combination of antagonism that you can think of. Your characters will hate it, but your readers will thank you for it.

Now go write something. ;-)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

I Have Three Ways to Say "Thank You"

I appreciate you. 
You visit my website, and you indulge my delusions of being a writer. Those things have more of an impact on me than you might realize.  
As a small way of saying thank you, I’d like to offer you not one, not two, but three gifts to celebrate the release of my new novel, Smoke and Shadow.  
First, you can get a copy of my new novella called Friends and Family just by contacting me. Friends and Family is a prelude to Smoke and Shadow. It follows a professional killer named Harrison Trent in his hunt for a slave trader in New York City.
Second, I’d like to give you early access to Smoke and Shadow. You can pre-order the book on Amazon before it goes on sale Tuesday, November 17th.
Finally, you can get Smoke and Shadow at a special RSVP price. The normal price for the e-book is $3.99. You can get it for just $0.99. 
If you get a chance to read the prelude or the full novel, I hope you’ll enjoy them. I also hope you’ll take the time to write me a review no matter what you think of the book. Your opinion matters. If the attachments or the links don’t work, please let me know and I’ll take care of it.
And if you want to spend more time in the world of Crime and Passion, sign up for the free RSVP Newsletter. 
 Have fun.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A New Cover Reveal, a New Release Date and a New Promo Offer for My VIPs!

Please allow me to share the cover of my upcoming book, Smoke and Shadow.

Murder is their business…
In the dark world of espionage, Hamilton Chu and Harrison Trent are secret warriors. Driven by loyalty, excitement, and money, these modern mercenaries travel around the world to spy, sabotage and kill.

But how much of their humanity do they sacrifice with each turn of the knife or pull of the trigger? How can they succeed in missions they can't solve with violence alone?

Smoke and Shadow is an anthology series set in my Crime and Passion Universe. It is an international action thriller in a style similar to La Femme Nikita, Taken and the Bourne Identity.

Smoke and Shadow will be available on Amazon on Tuesday, November 17th 2015

If you’d like an advance copy in exchange for an honest review, please click here for more details.

If you’d like to take advantage of my $0.99 discount sale for all my other Crime and Passion books, visit my Amazon page before November 1st.

Have fun and thanks for reading.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Consequential Violence: The Impact of Combat in Fiction

The action and thriller genres rely on certain established tropes. The hero needs someone or something to protect. He (or in rare cases she) will define their individuality by being a lone wolf with no affiliation or being a rebel in an existing power structure. When it comes to physical prowess or combat skill, the hero will be placed in situations where they can to injure, maim and kill to show how badass they are. This is one of the pillars of action stories from The Odyssey to Spectre and it can be the best part of a story. But combat, fight scenes and violence lose their impact when they become inconsequential.

Defining Consequence defines consequence as:
  1. The effect, result, or outcome of something occurring earlier
  2. An act or instance of following something as an effect, result, or outcome.
  3. The conclusion reached by a line of reasoning; inference.
  4. Importance or significance
  5. Importance in rank or position; distinction:

In action and thriller fiction, violence often has no consequences for the characters or the hero. I’ve read a best-selling novel that started with a six man shootout in New York’s Central Park during the day in the 21st Century.  The hero moved through the plot without any acknowledgment of the effect that event would have. The cops never arrived and never investigated the event, even though there is a police precinct in Central Park and the surrounding area has a heavy police presence because of all the high priced real estate around. No one had any video of the incident, even though there are cameras in the Park and everyone has an iPhone. The hero was shot during the incident, but suffered no physical, mental or emotional impact from the incident. There was no mention of any news story about a massive gun battle in the middle of the most famous park in New York City. This lack of consequence gnawed at me until I was forced to put the book down because I couldn’t suspend enough of my disbelief to keep reading.

Exploring Consequence

In real life of course, violence has consequences for everyone involved. Books like Violence: A Writer’s Guide, Real World Self Defense, On Combat and the Writing Violence series discuss the consequences of violence in depth, but in broad strokes physical combat can affect a character’s

  •          Mental facilities: people often see and perceive the world in a different way after a violent encounter. Depending on the situation, their view of the world, other people and themselves can undergo profound change. This can happen whether they win or lose.
  •          Emotional well-being: We have learned a lot in recent years about the impact of post-traumatic stress disorder on people who go through violent encounters. It doesn’t just impact soldiers engaged in drawn out conflict. PTSD can hit anyone involved in any number of encounters. It should also be noted that some people react in the opposite way, developing emotional frameworks that seek out and enjoy violence.
  •          Physical health: It might be obvious to say violence often hurts and can sometimes kill, but when reading action novels or watching action movies, this reality is often ignored. Characters can be shot, stabbed, beaten and bruised in one scene and restored to full health in the next. I know people who have suffered long term injuries in the relative safety of practice. Why ignore all those realities in fiction?
  •          Legal Status: Most types of violence are officially illegal in most countries of the world. People who engage in violent acts can easily face arrest, prosecution and prison for something as simple as a street fight. The more over the top and bloody the encounter, the more likely the police will be to get involved, and the legalities of “self-defense” usually don’t protect people who willingly participate in violence
  •          Social Status: Different segments of society react to violence in different ways. While a shoving match at a high society party might send someone into exile, a friendly fistfight might not even be remembered the next day in another part of the city or country. In either case, if the event is in public it probably won’t go unnoticed or undocumented in the modern world. Just type in “street fight” or “fist fight” in YouTube to see what I mean. In addition, the “winner” and ‘loser” of the fight will have to deal with the repercussions of their actions in their social circles, whether they are positive or negative.
  •          Daily lifestyle: Violence often creates more violence. The winner of a fight today might find himself hunted by the loser, or his friends, or his company, or his country depending on the importance of the loser. The winner of a fight might find himself constantly looking over his shoulder for the revenge attack. In the worst case scenario, he might not be able to ever go home again.
  •          Financial Status: Between doctor bills, legal bills, psychology bills and protecting against future attacks, the cost of violence in dollars and cents can cause more long term damage than the physical beating. People have been bankrupted by violent encounters even if they won and even if they were exonerated in court.

Consequence in Story

Barry Eisler is one of my favorite writers and his style inspires my own work when it comes to depicting violence. The John Rain Series is full of violent scenes, but consequence always plays an important role before and after the fight. Mr. Eisler’s characters often spend most of the novel trying to anticipate, eliminate or reduce the impact of impending violence, creating a tension few other writers can create.

In my next book, Smoke and Shadow, I tell stories of two combat operators and their missions against warlords, slave traders and insurgents. In each novella, the characters take the time to plot, plan and prepare for what might go wrong in their violent encounters. I hope the result creates a dynamic both interesting and realistic.

The Truth about Fiction

Not every story benefits from complex portrayals of violence. Part of the fun of a James Bond or superhero film is ignoring legal and emotional realities for a few hours. But some stories and characters can be enhanced and improved if their violent actions had more consequences.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments. I look forward to hearing from you.

Have fun.