Genre tips / thrillers / writers resources / writers tips

10 Tips for Thriller Writers

thrillersBefore I give you tips, let’s discuss what a thriller is. According to International Thriller Writers, this fiction genre is characterized by:

…the sudden rush of emotions, the excitement, sense of suspense, apprehension, and exhilaration that drive the narrative, sometimes subtly with peaks and lulls, sometimes at a constant, breakneck pace.

Thrillers must include:

  • a plot that is high-concept
  • a hero who is clever, superhuman and flawed
  • a goal that involves saving the nation/the planet, never something like ‘find myself’
  • a climax that is shocking
  • world-class nasty villains
  • stakes that are high, action that is non-stop, and plot twists that are smart, often, and unexpected

If this is your genre, here are some tips for excelling at it:

  1. Your ‘high fives’ should be followed with a chair in the face
  2. Better yet: Set up the High Five and have the hero trip the antagonist instead
  3. Characters should be like sharks–always moving.
  4. Like the SEAL slogan (you know the one), the hero’s easier day should always ALWAYS be yesterday
  5. To the antagonist, understanding patriotism, morals, responsibility is akin to smelling the color yellow
  6. The antagonist can imitate someone being reasonable, but never deliver. That trait is buried deeper in his soul than Machiavelli’s conscience
  7. Thrillers have none of what Oprah calls ‘life defining moments’ unless they involve a gun or knife, or maybe a fist fight
  8. Action is tighter than a knife fight in a phone booth
  9. By the climax, the hero’s chances of survival should include slim, none, and you’re kidding
  10. Bowing to the inevitable is not a position that comes naturally to your hero

If you’re looking for a book on writing thrillers, try James Frey’s How to Write a D*** Good Thriller (click for my review of it).

This is my genre, so I like writing about it in WordDreams. Here are a few more articles I’ve written about this genre.

5 Great Websites for Thriller Writers

Writers Tips #81: 11 Tips on Writing Thrillers

10 Basic Ingredients (Plus 8 More) of a Successful Thriller

Thriller Writers: These Books Are For You


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing TeachersCisco guest blogIMS tech expert, and a monthly contributor to Today’s Author. In her free time, she is the editor of a K-8 technology curriculumK-8 keyboard curriculumK-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and creator of technology training books for how to integrate technology in education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller that should be out to publishers next summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

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8 thoughts on “10 Tips for Thriller Writers

  1. What do I think? Just great. I’m not a thrill writer but with this advice and newly acquired knowledge I feel I can write one – one day. I now know why we – the novice in the business- love you for all your contribution to our education. You’re the best in the business. Arun

  2. This is great, Jacqui. I always find when I’m watching movie thrillers that the hero is NEVER going to make it out alive, but they always do! LOL, that’s certainly the way to do it :D

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