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Paula Wynne

Pinned 3 years 11 months ago onto Writing Guides


In all the craft of writing books I have read and reviewed on my writing blog, U Self-Publish, I gain so much knowledge and understanding of what makes an excellent novel. More to the point here, how to write a killer thriller.

For novelists writing a conspiracy thriller, it is vital to have these lessons branded on your brain.

Foundations Of A Thriller

First up, James Scott Bell says “Suspense is like a coil.It must get tighter and tighter. And danger and menace gets greater. Take these elements and put them on steroids."

He believes the ‘foundations of a thriller’ are:

  1. Death stakes (Physical, Professional or Psychological)
  2. Unforgettable characters
  3. Organic action
  4. Increasing tension
  5. Page turning compulsion

With those elements you will need to add the voice, the style, the spice, the dialogue. Then start raise the stake, be it personal or societal. With personal stakes: ask question how can things get worse, at whatever point you are, what could happen that could happen to make things it worse, what can make it even worse than that. It becomes a step by step decent into greater and greater trouble.

With societal stakes work your way out from where they live, their home, their town. Is the trouble snowballing into a greater societal or communal danger. For example in the Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown shows greater conspiracy and unravelling of the mystery and huge ramifications.

James Scott Bell believes the core of the thriller is = what if?

Page Turning Compulsions

Once you have the great plot idea and marry it to unforgettable characters who are unpredictable and passionate. They must care about something with blood pulsing through their vein. They must also be resourceful and learn how to survive using every experience and skill they possess. Of course, they must be complex with more than one layer and inner conflict. Their inner voices argue inside them on the page creates the hero to be real and human. Thus we bond with them.  they must be gutsy. Despite their fear, they go forward. Lastly,they should have a wound, some kind of thing from their past that haunts them in present.

James says the ‘Fear Factor’ is a great friend of yours as a writer. He suggests that authors pause before you write a scene to consider what is the fear factor and fear thermometer and what level it is in that scene. Then find new levels of fear to put your fictional character through.

Something Unexpected In Every Scene

For each scene use SUES:

One key to page turning fiction is the unexpected. If a reader predicts what is going to happen they won’t turn the page. But if unexpected happens they are kept there. Every now and then stop and ask yourself: what is what your reader expects to happen in this scene? And then do something else using ‘Twists and Turns’

James’s Page Turning Compulsion:

  • Action = end scene when bad things happen or about to happen
  • Emotion = leave character at the height of emotion
  • Dialogue = end with something that holds intrigue or to create more unease

Sandra Brown says a great thriller is when you build in a secret in every book and keep it until the end to reveal it. She also advocates that authors ask a question in the first scene and answer it in the last scene.

Building And Sustaining Suspense

Jodie Renner believes we must sustain the suspense. To do that authors must build in tension and intrigue. They must use foreshadowing for maximum reader involvement. In her book, Writing A Killer Thriller, she offers authors devices for amping up the tension and suspense to delay and tease and stretch out the moment. All the while withholding information and shoving twists and surprises and revelations under your reader’s nose.

Jodie believes we must ‘Knock ’Em Dead with a Kick-Ass Climax’ to create a memorable and satisfying ending.

In Kill Zone, Joe Moore says we must not just hook our reader, instead we must start with a bang He says: Start with the moment that changes the character’s life forever. Or throw the reader right into the middle of action using all their senses. It’s all about action, reaction and pace.

Thrill Seekers

So, with all this in mind, I decided to create an infographic to keep reminding me of these excellent learning tips:

1.Bang ~ action, reaction and pace sets off the first chapter
2.Big Question ~ first scene and answered in last
3.Secrets ~ only revealed at end
4.Killer Plot Surprises ~ something unexpected in every scene
5.Cliffhanging and Jump Cut Pace ~ page turning compulsion, can’t put the book down
6.Suspense ~ foreshadowing keeps them intrigued
7.Complex Characters ~ memorable to readers
8.Conflict Stakes ~ personal and societal issues
9.Ticking Clock ~ give your characters a deadline, a race against time and then shorten the timetable
10.Climax big fight scenes ~ darken the character’s last few moments of the book to give the reader a big payoff

Download my Thrill Seekers Infographic.


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