Every genre of writing has its own rules and requirements. Here’s what you need to write a best-selling thriller:
- Start with a common fear or desire. Something the audience can easily and quickly identify with.
- Thrillers are about isolation and paranoia.
- A clue is dropped in every scene.
- The thing that isolates them from society in the beginning will come into play in the protagonist’s character arc.
- Often, a small sin leads the protagonist into big trouble.
- It’s not enough that they’re an outcast from society, but it also seems that people are out to get them.
- In the beginning of most thrillers, the reader isn’t sure whether people are really after the protagonist, or whether he’s just imagining it. A good thriller puts the reader in the protagonist’s shoes, and we wonder, is the threat real or imagined?
- Everyone turns against the hero, making him a lone man against the world.
- One reason why total strangers turn against the protagonist is that he is obviously crazy. In his desperation to survive, he often says or does crazy things. To make matters worse, he always acts crazy in front of the police or authorities.
- There is a scene where the authorities search for proof that the protagonist’s story is true..and turn up nothing.
- The three most common ways to make sure the protagonist can’t go to the authorities are to make him look crazy, or make him look guilty of murder, or both.
- Thrillers need to thrust the protagonist into chaos in order to be effective. Insanity is the ultimate state of chaos.
- The heroes in action novels turn and fight. The heroes in a thriller turn and run!
- Before a problem can be resolved, the hero must lose everything.
- Everything that creates the protagonist’s identity is taken from him and used against him.
- In a thriller, you have to be careful what you wish for!
- The protagonist becomes the victim (even if he’s a cop).
- To show there’s no one the protagonist can trust, a helpful friend usually lures them into a deadly situation.
- Anyone who does offer to help the protagonist is killed before they can do anything.
- In an action story, the weapon will probably be a gun. In a thriller, it may be something as mundane as a hair dryer thrown into the bathtub, or a plastic grocery bag pulled over someone’s head.
- Things that seem innocent really have a sinister, and often deadly, purpose.
- Thrillers usually feature a protagonist who is on the run – evading danger – until he is finally cornered and must turn and fight in order to survive. In act 3, he turns the tables on the villains and fights back.
- Once the protagonist has vanquished the villain, he usually does not go back to his old life. He has survived his trial by fire and been reborn a stronger and more confident man. He finds a new life to match his new persona – a better life. The transformation is complete.
My book, The Man In Number 7, shows a young mother on the run after killing her abusive husband. Later, she sees her husband following her. Is it really him? His ghost? Or is she crazy? Read the book to find out more.
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