““The way to write a thriller is to ask a question at the beginning, and answer it at the end.” This quote is attributed to the well-known writer of thrillers Lee Child, in this article in Writers Digest.Child debunks some of the myths about writing. You will know that Child achieved fame for his books based on his character Jack Reacher, a tough talking former Major in the US Army. Interestingly, I didn’t know till recently that Lee Child is a pen name and he is really a British writer called Jim Grant.
This set me thinking and I wondered what I would say, if I were asked 5 Rules for Writing Thrillers. Here they are:
- Research: The best of plots can go awry if the story is not thoroughly researched. I have in mind two elements of “research”. The first and more obvious being to research for credible material so that what you write is not factually incorrect. It is fiction alright but you can’t say that your hero covered the 29 mile distance between Washington DC and New York in less than 20 minutes, because you would be incorrect on several counts. The second aspect is to research what you have written to ensure that you have been consistent all through the book. David who is the eldest son in the opening chapter cannot become the third son in a later chapter.
- Unique: Each of us is unique. We bring to the table a very complex combination of our personalities, our experiences, our writing styles and indeed our interpretations of all that we have seen, read or heard. Cash in on this . Make it your advantage. Don’t try to write like Lee Child or anyone else for that matter. Sure, you could be influenced by someone’s writing style but that’s about it. Carve out a niche for yourself with your use of language, your plots and your characters. These should become something that your readers associate with you as an author.
- Learn From The Past: Practice is the only way to improve your writing. The more you write, the better your writing tends to become. Haven’t we seen how tame the first draft of our book usually is as compared to the final version? We have made improvements, brought in changes and edited ruthlessly to make the book more interesting and readable. Learn from all that you do. Mistakes are fine as long as you learn from them. A smart way of improving is to see what other successful writers are doing and see if you can incorporate some of this into your writing style, without losing your own identity. Each of us have own foibles: words used too many times, repetitive sentences and mistakes like these which can be corrected with practice. Writing, at the end of the day, is a skill after all.
- Excitement: If there is no excitement for the reader, there is no thriller in the making. The way you construct the story, develop the plot and build suspense adds to the excitement you create. Your aim is to get the reader to imagine what will happen next You want them to reflect whether what they thought would happen, did actually happen or not. To a large extent the degree of excitement that you build in will depend on your plot and your characters. Writing an exciting chapter may not be too tough, but getting the reader to experience that excitement all through the book calls for something special. This brings me to my last point.
- Story Telling: As Lee Child said in the article I mentioned, it’s really all about story telling. Write in a way that appeals to most readers. Yes, you can’t please them all but if the majority of your readers ask for more, you would have done a great job. I repeat: Crafting the story is a hallmark of a great writer. Almost anyone can write a story. Very few have the ability to tell the story in a masterful way that retains the excitement for the reader while raising different emotions in them. If the reader hates the bad guy in your story, you have done well!
These “rules” are based largely on my own experiences. I have written two thrillers, the first being “It Can’t Be You” which got me off to a good start. The second should be hitting the book stands in a month or so and is called, “Lucky For Some, 13.” I am in the process of writing the third which is called, “ Let The Dead Stay Dead.” Updates on all three are available in my blog, “Prem Rao, Story Teller.”
If you have liked this post, I would be happy if in a small way I have helped you think of becoming a better writer of thrillers.