Post by Robert Charles Lee:
I lied. It isn’t.
I’m no thriller writer (or even a thrilling one, come to think of it), but I have worked with thriller writers before and have learnt a few things from them.
What do I have to do — what do I have to read — to write a good thriller?”
I could be a sarcastic writer, like, I could answer that with “Like I need to tell you.”
Bloodymindedness aside and don’t want to be a spoilsport, but do nothing other than read some good thrillers for a start. A good thriller isn’t formulaic, so the rest is up to you. True fact that.
“There is only one recipe for a bestseller and it is a very simple one. You have to get the reader to turn over the page.”
— Ian Fleming, How to Write a Thriller
1. Decide on the type of thriller
Honestly, thriller schmiller!
What is it that you really want to write? Psychological thriller? Mystery thriller? Sci-fi? Spy? Military? Aunt-Agony’s-advice-on-your-sexual-exploits-in-the-back-of-your-lame-rusted-out-c*nt-of-a-car thriller?
2. Complex, thrilling characterisation
Thrillers often divide characters along clear lines of good and evil, but each character carries flaws as well as virtues — but don’t end up making them wusses with some kind of ‘internal moral angst’ bubbling inside them.
Avoid the stock-character trap — the hard-boiled private dick, the alcoholic reporter, etc. I mean, c’mon, has a plainclothes detective got to wear a trenchcoat? Arentcha sick of that already??!
Make the characters personal and specific. Thrillers are by definition “in your face,” so your characters must be visualisable by your readers.
Personal: Is this a character that you should’ve known before you even thought about writing?
Specific: If there’s a bomb blast, Alan and Brenda got caught in the fracas and Alan was nearly shredded to ribbons. If Shirley bought Douglas a mattress for shacking down in the office, we need to feel Robert’s angry disappointment that the goddamn office isn’t some occasional home away from home.
Every character has a motive — just like the rest of us in real life (including you).
This is the ‘meat’ of the thriller.
Hero and anti-hero bitch-slap it out over high stakes. Instead of the all-good battling the all-bad in ultra-death-metal-rock dystopian surroundings, more interesting is a villain who is justified in his actions.
Add time pressure to the storyline and characterisation — nothing kills a thriller faster than too much description and too much ‘explaining.’ Think comics, not Bertrand Russell’s analytic philosophy.
Wanna take a swipe at me now, mate?
Part of the fun of writing a thriller is getting saliva-dribbling mutts like us to think the story is going one way and then take us 100% by surprise.
Ask yourself what would a reader expect to happen next.
Answer: Plot twist or a couple of cliffhangers.
List out three possible directions for your plot twist. Keep shifting the advantage from one side to the other. Thrillers work like a three-legged stool with one leg secretly sawn to snap loose. Unstableness is the name of the game.
Force your readers to experience the emotions of the scenes. Do that by experiencing them yourself first. Think back to an emotional moment in your own life, and use that as a jumping point. Hnnngh!
6. Communicating a message
Look at science fiction — all of them carry an underlying message. Smart readers are looking for that in everything they read. Dumb readers just want piles and piles of description: meaninglessly clever.
Lots of aspiring writers just let their characters duke it out — nothing wrong with that approach, but it makes for bland reading.
Make your story intentional. Lawyers arguing their case intend to win their case — take that for illumination.
7. Diagram it, dammit!
Dammit! Don’t write anything. Don’t draft anything. Just plot out the storyline in diagrams. Thrillers are visual in impact. You need to visualise your plot, my old son. Self-flammin’-explanatory. Set a timeline for the story.
7½. Writing timetable
Thrillers are hard (and thirsty) work!
You need a disciplined approach to this game — just like your characters needed to be too in their universe. You decide if you need to write one page a day or something else.
Lay off the booze. Or more of it.
7¾. Live a life
You really want to write a good thriller? Go out and get flexible with others outside in the real world! Hermits never know how enlightening and super bloody thrilling the outside world can be.
Apart from that, you little runt, stop reading and start writing now.
I’m sorry my suggestion isn’t thrilling at all.
*Slips on banana and falls straight into an open manhole*
The Naked Listener
8 April 2015
is a breathtakingly ordinary financial printer and award-winning (whining) blogger. He was featured in on 2 January 2015.