How to write a thriller

I am very excited to announce that this is the first of my new thriller blogs, full of tips and advice on how to write a thriller novel.

I am taking it step-by-step and starting with what makes a good thriller and how to achieve it.


What is a thriller?

The definition of thriller is a work, fiction or drama, that thrills by using a high degree of tensions and adventure, conflict and fear.

Thrillers: crime, chase, psychological, all have one thing in common - there is the threat of death hanging over them and in every line.

Death of what? A person, a job, the love of their life or is it about losing their mind? Death comes in many forms but it has to be something someone doesn’t want to lose and that has to come in from the beginning. It’s all about trouble!

Be a journalist - look and follow news stories and find out everything you can. Get to the heart of a story.

No thriller is right without great characters and great plot, so you may lean one way but you have to learn to do both well. Some people are character led, others plot lead, whichever you are  - a good thriller comes from a strong story idea but characters can determine that idea. Make sure you spend time creating strong, interesting, believable characters that steer away from clichés. Setting is also paramount, choose it to shape, determine or enhance your plot. I will be expanding these subjects in future blogs: Characters and Settings.

Where do you get your inspiration from?  Everyone always asks me that question.

Here’s the answer - imagination and research.

The old adage of: “write what you know.” may still apply if you are writing in another genre but it only barely applies here in Thriller Land. You can choose a setting, a story you’re familiar with and rejig it, or writing what you know can apply to the fact that you know all about thrillers!

We’ve established that you don’t have to murder someone to write from the point of view of a serial killer but you have to do a lot of research and have a good imagination. People are very knowledgeable these days especially in the world of CSI and forensics – do your research.

“The best thrillers stab the heart, throughout. They do it by getting readers to experience the emotions of the scenes.


How can you do that?

Be a detective, listen, observe, absorb the facts and get to the underlying cause and effect and the timeline of a case. Know who was where when and why.

Be a journalist - look and follow news stories and find out everything you can. Get to the heart of a story.  Keep scrapbooks with torn-out articles, photos of interesting faces, great locations and keep notebooks with any and all thoughts that pop into your head about possible storylines. Draw out the layouts of any place you think you might use later on: cafes, houses, countryside etc.  It will save you so much time later on. Transfer all these ideas to folders on your PC. They will lie dormant on your desktop, under the heading: Possible Locations, Possible Storylines, Characters, Dialogue etc., waiting  to come alive when you need them.

Be a magpie and listen to people and observe and ask them about their lives, their stories.  We have all had that instance when someone will describe something so vividly that you think you are there too. Just write that down and use it.  Become a therapist, develop listening skills and ask:  ‘and how did that make you feel?’ Develop your fears and use the way you feel - anxious, scared, self-doubt - use every feeling you can. Never look away, live the experience. Like an actor, collect feelings and emotions and learn to summon them at will.

Get imagining! Wherever you are, whatever you are doing create scenarios and ask questions:

What if a bomb went off outside?

What if I went to the loo and came out and everyone in this cafe was dead?

What if it turned out I was adopted and my real mother was a serial killer?!

Brainstorm story ideas.  Use diagrams to help with this; try these if you find it easier than on paper. Both are free and very useful but don’t waste too much time playing – get on with it!



Good luck – see you on the next blog, which will be all about creating an Outline for your story or choosing to go the organic route.

lee weeks