So you want to write a thriller?
You want to make readers bite their nails, take them on a roller-coaster ride, make their heartbeat shoot through the roof?
There are a few basic things to remember for anyone wanting to achieve that goal.
As thriller writers, we all have our own styles, our own narrative techniques, and our own ways to characterize and build a world of mystery and intrigue.
But a few basic principles remain the same.
A thriller is always about expecting the unexpected.
Whenever the plot allows, keep on springing surprises on your readers to keep the suspense alive.
In continuation of this principle, let’s talk about the nitty-gritties of writing a thriller.
- A twist in the tale can be character based
And why not? People are unpredictable—they say they will do A, but they might just do the exact opposite of A and surprise everyone. In fact, the actions of any one character can turn the entire plot on its head. You can have a scenario where the character is driving the plot, rather than the other way around.
- The source material for our stories
If you read a lot, then you must have felt the growth pangs of a fertile imagination. Your mind must be brimming with story ideas, just knocking on the inside of your head, waiting to be put on paper or laptop, depending on your preference.
But is imagination enough? Should your novel, even though it’s a work of fiction, have some ‘realism’ in it? Will something that has happened in real life—let’s say the way bodies decompose when left out in the open, in the hot sun, ignored in a big city, or if the ambulance is late—help your story become more relatable? Or, if you’re portraying Mumbai, the sights, sounds and smells of the city, the crowded locals and buses, the clogged roads and the glitz ang glamor contrasted with the squalor.
The material for my story, The Invisible Neighbors, which is available on the Juggernaut app, came from the fact that I hear weird noises from the apartment above me. I live on the 13th floor of a Mumbai high rise, and I’ve never seen the people who live above me.
They could be anybody! This is what inspired the writing of the Invisible Neighbors.
Observe. Absorb. Imagine. Create.
Trust me, imagination combined with knowledge of real life make for potent creativity.
- The Art of Keeping Readers Hungry
Of course, a good thriller must engage the reader. As I said at the beginning of the article, the reader must be kept hooked through surprises. These ‘surprises’ are nothing but plot twists. Every time the reader thinks they’ve got it, you jump out of a dark corner and say ‘TADA! YOU’RE WRONG!’
But there is a nuance to this art. Like food must not be over- or under-cooked, but just cooked right, a thriller must be done right too.
Don’t give the reader too many details in the beginning, obviously. But then, don’t give too few details either. Remember, the reader must never consciously strain themselves to figure things out. Give them enough details to keep them from keeping the book down in frustration because they can’t understand what’s going on in the story.
Reveal details bit by bit. The reader must get enough bread crumbs to effortlessly connect the dots.
At the end, it must all make sense. Every detail you put in your book must tie together beautifully at the end.
Remember, the devil of any good thriller is in the details. Get your details correct, and you have a potboiler which can enthrall readers.
And as a parting shot, don’t forget to have fun while crafting and creating.
You can read Prachi’s book The Invisible Neighbors here .