TRUST ME: Building a Hero

by Jeff Abbott on July 19, 2009

The germ of an idea for a book like TRUST ME — which is a “What if . . .” kind of story — usually suggests that the kernel of the plot comes first. Actually, for me, the plot idea and the main character idea often tend to arrive together (or so close together that I can’t tell a difference–should I get a stopwatch and time the gap?). They are so closely linked that as soon as I think of the “what happens” I have to think at the same time about “to whom does this happen”. 

Luke Dantry arrived in my head as soon as I thought of writing about a person trying to stop bad guys on the Internet. He was young — most thriller heroes/heroines tend to be a bit older, a bit more experienced in life. Luke is in grad school at the University of Texas. I wanted him to have more book smarts than street smarts. I wanted him to be a bit emotionally distant; he’s lost both his parents, and has his stepfather as his only family. I imagined him as someone a bit cocooned from the world, a pure academic, which would make his entry into the darkness much more jarring.
But Luke didn’t quite turn out that way.
As soon as I started writing, Luke showed an edge to his naivete I didn’t expect: he had more strength and determination than I initially believed. Where was this coming from? (he showed this edge quickly, within the first twenty or so pages). I felt a little annoyed with him. Then I realized I hadn’t asked a critical question: why was Luke so interested in extremists? What was his personal stake into delving into their psychology? Because he sure acted like this was life or death, not just a project to bolster his academic resume.
That’s when I realized his father had to have died at the hands of an extremist.
It is wrenching to read the remembrances families and friends wrote for those lost in the Oklahoma City bombing or in 9/11 or the 7/7 London bombings or the Mumbai massacre or any attack conducted by extremists. You realize that each person lost was loved, valued, the world to someone else. We see numbers when we see accounts of the horrors. We do not always see the faces. We do not always feel, at a distance, the hole left behind by their absence. 
So. I had Luke’s father killed by an extremist whose views were about to cost him his job. When this happens, Luke is fourteen. The hard edge to Luke came from having run away from home in the wake of his father’s passing, to make a solitary and hard journey of hundreds of miles to where his father died. A pilgrimage of grief, done by a child who did not understand why his father had been taken from him. On foot or by thumb. Fending for himself, stealing to live, sleeping in alleyways, protecting himself. This was where Luke’s toughness came from. The bookish grad student had once been a runaway. And now it seemed more plausible that Luke could manage on the run, that he could talk or fight his way out of trouble.
At the same time, it gave an urgency to Luke’s work. If he can answer the almost unanswerable: why?, maybe he can stop a future attack. Maybe he can keep innocent people alive. Maybe he can keep another boy from losing his dad. Maybe he can fight the good fight.
After that element of his life slipped into place, Luke told me his story. I could see all his dreams, his hopes, his griefs, his desires. I could see his strengths and his weaknesses. I could see how he could change and what choices he would have to face. I had my hero.
Next up: writing the villains for TRUST ME.

    { 1 comment… read it below or add one }

    Layne Jackson July 19, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Sound like he is helping you along. I look forward to the whole story.

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