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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Writing a Thriller

Before I got my publishing contract with WiDo, I didn't know what it meant to write a thriller. I wrote a book. I thought my novel (then titled Walk Beside Me), was kind of like a coming-of-age story. It had all the elements of a thriller, but I didn't know it. I was just writing about horrible, dramatic events that happened to these teenage girls, forcing them to question their faith and grow up.

When WiDo asked me to change it to a thriller, I though, "Sure! No biggie!" My editor gave me suggestions and I did them. "Perfect," I thought.

Except it wasn't. Turns out, there's a whole lot more to writing a thriller than I thought. It's all about the suspense, the mystery, the uneasy feeling that persists through the entire book. Now that was a bit harder to do.

I've spent the past two weeks working on pace. Making sure that the novel doesn't ever stop being a thriller. It's okay to have moments of breathing, I think. And comic relief. But then, the heart-stopping action must pick up again.

Yesterday on Twitter there was a chat on thriller novels that I, unfortunately, wasn't able to attend. Turns out they do these chats frequently, with a slightly different twist on the topic. Isn't that amazing? I can research writing a thriller from Twitter! Last night's topic was "The Thrill of Keeping it Real" or something like that. The entire chat has been transcribed here. Let me share with you some things that readers want out of a thriller:

"what matters is if it SOUNDS real. There may actually be real things that no one would believe!"

"author needs to be careful about complex things, too. For instance, In Dan Brown's Digital Fprtress, he has all kinds of computer details and he gets some critical stuff wrong. Ruined book 4 me as a programmer."

"people will accept fantastic things if it doesn't *contradict* reality."

"Building on reality to create new possibly realities is where I believe the cool factor resides."

"I love stories that make me believe things my rational mind wouldn't normally accept. Storytelling at its best!"

"The writer's job is to make anything seem possible. This is so much harder than it sounds like it should be!"

"Making it realistic enough that people suspend disbelief is certainly key."

What do you look for in a good thriller? What is it that keeps you interested?



6 comments:

Th. said...

.

I heard an interesting interview with Joyce Carol Oates and was interested to learn that in her opinion, she has never written a thriller. All those books about abuse and murder? Not thrillers. Pervading dread? Check. Serial killings? Check. Thriller? Nope.

Why not?

She says that in order for a book to be a thriller it needs alternating povs. Alternating between the detective's point of view and the murderer's, for instance.

David J. West said...

I didn't care for Digital Fortress because at the climax, these "genius" codebreakers couldn't figure out the code before I could. I was tired from a hard day of work, barely able to drive home, listening to the audio-book and thinking DUH! I beat the protaganists easy-why didn't the villain?

As for what I like? It has to have great characters, both protag's and antagonists-I have to be interested in them and why they are doing what they are doing.

Harley D. Palmer said...

For me thrillers need to keep me on the edge of my seat, chewing my nails, and literally gasping outloud at each new twist or scene.

I LOVE books that do that!

KarenG said...

Two words for you: STEPHEN KING

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

Th--I don't know if I agree. I've read thrillers that are made even more so b/c we don't know what's going on w/ the bad guy. (Think: Christopher Pike)

I hope I can write a book that does that for you, David and Harley!

Karen--When I think Stephen King, I always think horror, not thriller. I've started a few things of his and never fnished. It's not because he's not a great writer, obviously. I just felt like the element of horror was too strong.

Aaron and Emily said...

When I don't want to put the book down because I have to know what is going to happen next. Maybe that's general for any good book. I dunno.

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