In thrillers action is critical. That’s what readers are looking for. True, you do need to develop your characters. The more you flesh them out, the more you’ll engage your readers. Stick figures don’t win much sympathy. But it’s action that drives the story.
Because literary novels are driven by character, a literary novelist can start with just a germ of an idea and create a brilliant novel. But a thriller novelist who starts without a roadmap is likely to drive his novel over a cliff. So, how do you write your thriller? Answer: invest a lot of time up front developing your plot. Hours spent at the computer trying to wring ideas out of an unwilling brain can be frustrating. But it will pay off big time when you actually start writing your text. Here are some key considerations:
1. Most thrillers are built around serious crime. So what kind of crime do you have in mind? The newspapers and TV news programs are full of suggestions. Bernie Madoff is not the only Ponzi schemer. There are plenty of financial tricksters, along with crooked businessmen, sleazy politicians, professional criminals, terrorists, sexual predators, etc.
2. Great villains make great thrillers. Once you’ve figured out the crime or other violent action at the core of the story, flesh out your villain.
3. Thrillers build to a climax. So work on your pacing. The pace should quicken as the novel nears its climax.
4. The hero or heroine does not have to be superhuman. An ordinary man or woman confronted by extraordinary circumstances can create empathy. Such protagonists have to rely on brain more than brawn.
5. Make it tough on the hero or heroine. Give the protagonist a personal stake in the outcome and keep upping the ante.
6. Work out a slam-bang finale and make sure the action leads up to it. Don’t pull a switcheroo at the end by introducing some secondary character as the real villain. And don’t clutter your story with a bunch of red herrings.
7. Finally, write the book you’d love to read, something new and exciting, something that gives you chills just thinking about it.
by Richard Newell Smithin Uncategorized
- Start with a bang. Your opening paragraphs are your best sales opportunity. If these paragraphs grip readers, they buy. If not, they don’t. I just glanced at a couple of thrillers in which the opening paragraphs detailed the vital statistics of key characters – height, weight, etc. One glance and I moved on to another book.
- End with a bang. Need an example? Consider how Mozart ends Don Giovanni. A statue of one of the Don’s victims, the Commendatore, comes to life and drags the Don down to hell, amidst a chorus of demons. Hot stuff! Just substitute your hero or heroine for the Commendatore. In one recent thriller the villain is chasing the heroine up some auto-wrecking equipment. He slips, falls and breaks his neck. Slip and fall? I couldn’t believe it. In another, the villainess is electrocuted by faulty wiring. Arf! Endings like this drive away readers.
- Don’t tack on an epilogue. You’re writing fiction. Let the reader’s imagination connect the rest of the dots. If you need a final bit of explanation, slip it in but don’t call it an epilogue. Similarly, don’t call your opening a prologue. “Prologue” sets the wrong tone.
- Limit the number of characters. Too many names confuse readers. If characters are not critical to the story, give them generic names: the cop, the two shoppers, the little girl, etc.
- Don’t preface chapters or sections of chapters with notes on the time and location unless the information is really critical – like Ten Years Later.
- Rev up the speed as you move along. Your readers should be on the edge of their seat turning the pages lickety-split. Reading a good thriller at a relaxed pace is like taking a slow ride on a roller coaster. It doesn’t work. In revising your thriller, eliminate unnecessary words, people and scenes. They just slow the pace.
- Don’t waste a lot of time on romantic scenes or elaborate character development. Readers who want romance can find plenty elsewhere. If you’re writing taut suspense, you might want to show how your protagonist changes under the pressure. But generally too much focus on character development simply slows the pace.
- Don’t brood over your cover art. Harry Dolan’s recent covers, for Very Bad Men and Bad Things Happen, are what you might call minimalist. But the stuff between the covers is great. So he’s a bestselling novelist. Bottom line: It’s what’s between the covers that counts.