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Monday, July 09, 2007

Six Elements of a Thriller

I recently read a book that was labeled as a thriller, but it was anything except a thriller. In fact, I’m not sure I would even call it suspense. Slow reading and back story are words that come to mind for this particular novel. If you suspect it’s yours, don’t worry, I’m not going to give the name.

When I read a thriller, I want to be thrilled, meaning I want a fast-paced action and adventure story. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not looking for cheap thrills. No, I want a thriller that includes a deep message and if we’re talking a Christian thriller, then it had better include a strong spiritual journey as well.

Is that asking too much?

If you’re writing a thriller and secretly think that I was referring to your novel above, then let’s take a look at defining a thriller. Keep in mind that these are not hard and fast rules, but general guidelines. There will always be exceptions.

1) Does your story start with a bang? The best way to hook someone who’s seeking a thrill is to start with an action scene. A quick example can be seen in the James Bond movies. Bond movies always starts in the middle of some life or death situation that he’s required to bomb, shoot, or ski his way through to safety. The action hook may or may not be related to the story as a whole. But it sets the tone for what the reader can expect throughout. Hopefully.

2) Is your hero a larger than life character? Your hero should be someone who’s capable of achieving the grand task you’ve set before him. I love to see women in these roles. Girl Power! Lara Croft Tomb Raider is one of my favorite movies. Why am I using movies for examples instead of novels? I should rephrase that I’d love to see novels with women in these roles. Hmm. Maybe I’ll write one. Lady Croft is larger-than-life and capable of achieving her action-packed goal.

3) Is your villain evil and powerful enough to exact trouble on a grand scale? Popular thriller writer Dan Brown’s villain in Digital Fortress is only a programmer—a cryptographer—but he’s smart enough to hold the National Security Agency hostage with his unbreakable code. To crush the NSA would have disastrous effects on the security of our country, and the world.

4) Is your setting exotic? Thrillers take us away from the mundane, everyday geography of our lives. We want to see foreign countries, romantic cities, the deep ocean, outer space, or icy regions. A story set for the most part in Small Town U.S.A. would have a hard time thrilling. Again, Dan Brown begins Deception Point with a geologist sledding in the Arctic. Men in a helicopter appear and, after forcing him to communicate a mysterious message, push him and his dogs out to their icy deaths. An unusual setting and a “bang” that propels us into the story.

5) Are the stakes high enough? This ties back to number three—the stakes have to be on a grand scale—assassination, terrorism, biological warfare—something that will affect the masses, have a far-reaching effect.

6) Is your hero’s goal to thwart the plans of the villain? In a thriller, your character is not solving a crime that’s already been committed. Your hero’s ultimate goal is to prevent a powerful villain from achieving his plans of great destruction.

If you answered no to these questions then you need to consider that you may not be writing a thriller. You’re writing something quite different. A suspense or mystery perhaps. But if it’s the thriller that you want to write then rethink all of the above basic elements for your story. Chances are that you’ll have to write a completely different novel, considering the above six elements are enough to set thrillers apart from the crowd. But you can do it.

Blessings!
Beth

2 Comments:

Blogger Georgiana D said...

Great post! Thanks for the tips.

12:15 AM  
Blogger Gina Conroy said...

I'd love to repost this on http://writerinterrupted.com

12:15 PM  

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