Five Writing Lessons I’ve Learned as a Private Security Contractor

Being deployed to sublime places like the French Riviera, or to unpleasant places in countries ending in “-stan,” taught me a lot about writing. As a thriller novelist, a new security deployment is like an unexplored gold mine of impressions that await transformation into a dramatic storyline.

1. Use the right tools: an unlocked smartphone or tablet computer with a SIM card for phone and data is your best friend. Aside from being a virtual office, it’s a camera (my Goggle phone has a 13 megapixel camera), camcorder, voice recorder, translator, GPS, digital notebook, and more. Authors need tools and the smartphone makes research and note-taking—even book promotion on social media—much easier to do on the road.

2. Take notes now: describing sights, sounds, and smells can help bring scenes to life. Memories fade; first impressions are often more vivid, so I try to document my initial thoughts about people and places as soon as possible, knowing this material might later find it’s way into a book.

3. Don’t be shy: interesting characters are everywhere. In Hong Kong, I spotted some men drinking in a hotel bar. I took notes on their dress and physical characteristics before engaging them in conversation. One of them became the model for a Chinese assassin in the novel I’ve just finished called, Locked Down. Chatting up knowledgeable locals is a form of intelligence collection and can provide great background and insight for a story.

4. Perform risk assessment: as a security operator I’m trained to do this wherever I go. How many exits are there in a restaurant? Where could an assailant hide at an art gallery? Where does the danger lie in walking down any particular street? Sizing up a location or situation generates ideas about how to get your characters into and out of trouble.

5. The truth is a moving target: in my experience, many situations are not what they initially appeared to be. Translate that kind of shifting uncertainty into an exciting plot line, and you’ll be halfway to having a great story.

On a Russian military base in Central Asia

On a Russian military base in Central Asia

1 Comment
  1. Thanks for sharing your experience. My brother-in-law has looked into being a private security contractor and I know he would find this interesting. I like your point about being shy. I can see how that would be super helpful to be willing to talk to anyone at anytime, would really help being a private security contractor. I’ll be sharing this with my brother-in-law. Thanks!

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