I can't think up stories in the abstract, as it were. I have to let them grow organically. Of course I'm acutely aware of pace, structure, research and all the other technicalities of our craft, and I pay a great deal of attention to them. But in the end I rely on a combination of random inspiration - an image popping into my mind; a newspaper story;a line in an old book - logic and alchemy to get the desired results.
That said, my time was not entirely wasted. At least I was able to set up the questions that need to be answered. My protagonist as about to set out on what that movie script guru Robert McKee would probably describe as a Quest. Now, I already know what he is going to find on that quest. But until last week I'd never gone into the mechanics of how he'd reach his goal, who he'd meet along the way, how they would help/challenge/attack him and what he'd learn from them that would enable him to get there.
This was where the application of logic came in. I asked myself questions about characters. The story deals in part with events dating back several decades. So how had the conflicts between certain characters arisen? Why had they never been resolved before now? What pieces of information would certain characters possess? And so on ...
Plus, I started mapping out what I think is absolutely crucial in a thriller: the choreography. By this I mean that one of the absolute keys to the whole process is moving your characters around the fictional stage so that they arrive in the right place at the right time, with a very good reason for being there ... and then giving them things to do that involve action, revelation of character and progression of the plot.
After a few days mooching around, pretending to be deep in thought, I had quite a lot of that stuff sketched out on paper and in my head. I have a couple of strong images of places that I want to use as backdrops for action and I know who I want to be there. The fact that I haven't, at this point, got a clue how I'm going to get to these places, people and scenes is, for me, part of the fun. I don't remotely knock those authors who are disciplined enough to sort out everything in advance. it's just that (a) I can't do it, and (b) if I had successfully got the whole thing worked out, I wouldn't need to write the book. Part of the excitement for me is that I don't have a clue what's going to happen, either. If I did, then it would all just feel like colouring-by-numbers ... NB: I have the attention-span of a three year-old, which is why I have to be kept entertained!
Anyway, now I have a new problem. I have no excuse not to get back to writing again. The screen is staring at me like a cold swimming pool. I know I've got to dive in. Or maybe I should make myself a spot of lunch. Yes, that sounds like an excellent plan ... !!