How to Write a Thriller
Do you want to write a novel or short story with suspense, action, intrigue and realistic drama?
The thriller is one of the most popular genres in fiction. Usually containing exciting plot twists and high drama, coupled with realism and plausible characters, the thriller is also the genre most frequently adapted for the screen.
In short, as readers or viewers, we love fiction that keeps us on the edge of our seats. We lap it up like there is no tomorrow. So, if you’re a writer who has never considered writing one, it’s well worth dipping your toe into the pool of thrillers.
1. Get a Feel For The Kind of Thrillers Already on The Market
In order to write effectively in any genre, you need to have absorbed as much of it as possible
Unsurprisingly, given that thrillers are so popular, there are many of them around. And you might find this intimidating, especially if you’re a fan of a master of the genre. However, it’s helpful to take a look at what’s being done and, conversely, what isn’t being done. Is there a gap in the market that you can fill? For example, if political suspense is hot, do you have a fresh angle? It’s always good to look at what kind of thriller is currently flying of the bookshelves.
However, don’t be afraid to go your own way. If you have an idea that you think will appeal to a readership, trust that instinct. Whatever you do, make sure that you’re excited and comfortable about what you’re writing. Forcing yourself to write something, simply because you think it will appeal to the masses, isn’t going to work. Make sure you’re passionate about what you’re doing.
Some of The Best Selling Thrillers on Amazon
2. Pacing is Everything
The pacing of a thriller, more than any other genre, is crucial to your story or novel
Getting the pacing of a thriller right is a clever balancing act. The pace, obviously, cannot remain static, so you need to choose when to ratchet up the speed of the action and when to take things at a more leisurely pace.
Although excitement and fast-pace are crucial elements of any thriller, a reader with too much thrown at him or her will fatigue. So, you will, invariably need to give your readers some breathing space and an opportunity to digest information.
In order to track the pace of your novel, you may find it helpful to briefly outline each scene, so you can look at the piece as a whole and follow the rise and fall of tension and intrigue. Some writers even like to storyboard their novels.
Why Not Storyboard Your Novel?
3. Dialogue Must be Crisp
Don’t include anything that is not necessary to the progression of the narrative
Again, there is a balancing act to do here. On one hand, it’s vital that your characters ‘sound’ like normal people, they must be believable as real, live human beings. On the other hand, however, when writing a thriller, it is essential to ensure that every piece of dialogue has a purpose. If nothing would be lost by removing a particular line of dialogue, then I would recommend removing it.
More on writing effective dialogue can be found below.
4. Keep Raising the Stakes
As the novel moves on, the danger and risk must increase
For the hero or heroine of a thriller, there can be very little rest. Of course, as with pace, you cannot simply bombard your protagonist, there needs to be a little ebb and flow. However, you have to be fairly cruel to him, her or them, because a protagonist must be continuously placed in dangerous situtations and cannot be allowed to relax for too long.
Most importantly, ensure that whatever is at stake at the beginning of the story or novel is not so high that it has nowhere else to go. Obviously, it is likely to be high early on - it wouldn’t be much of a thriller otherwise - but make sure that you’ve left something up your sleeve that will allow you to take it further.
5. Assume Your Readers Are Smart
Don’t patronize your reader by giving too much information
The biggest mistake you can make when writing a thriller is to give away too much. You might feel that facets of the novel need to be explained, in order for future action to make sense. However, it is always best to assume that your readers are intelligent enough to make some leaps of logic on their own.
Exposition is important in a thriller, but even more important is that it is done in a subtle and smooth way that doesn’t seem clunky within the narrative. More on how to write effective exposition can be found below.
One More Word of Advice
If you don't find it exciting to write, no one is going to find it exciting to read
Writing can be a lot of fun, but there are times when the process can be less than enjoyable. If there is a passage in your novel or short story that you’re struggling over, ask yourself ‘why?’ Is it simply because you’re finding it difficult to envisage the action or is it because there is nothing in the scene that gets your juices flowing? If you’re finding even the smallest section of your novel boring to write, then imagine how boring it’s going to be to read.
So, try to make sure there is something titillating in each scene, perhaps a little breadcrumb or a red herring that throws your reader down the wrong path. With any work of fiction, it is important to keep the reader absorbed. However, with a thriller this is absolutely crucial.
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