Thriller Novels: How to Write and Publish
What Are Thriller Books?
Thriller is a genre of fiction, having numerous, often overlapping subgenres. Thrillers are characterized and defined by the moods they elicit, giving viewers heightened feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation, and anxiety. Thrillers generally keep the audience on the “edge of their seats” as the plot builds towards a climax. The cover-up of important information is a common element. Literary devices such as red herrings, plot twists, unreliable narrators, and cliffhangers are used extensively. A thriller is often a villain-driven plot, whereby they present obstacles that the protagonist must overcome. Writing a thriller story is an exciting process and involves various steps. Hope this article act as a guide to help you navigate through this exciting and thrilling process.
A thriller novel devotes most of its focus to suspense, dread, and the fear of a future crime—instead of one that’s already happened. Most mysteries reveal a crime and then require their main characters to work backward to figure out who committed that crime. In a thriller, the bad guy is often established early on, and the main characters must work to stop them from doing evil. The Jack Reacher series, written by Lee Child, and R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series for young adults serve as examples of high-stakes thriller novels. Thriller sub-genres include:
- Horror thrillers: Horror thrillers angle a classic suspense story toward the terrifying and grotesque. Many horror novels include a supernatural element, although monsters, aliens, and evil spirits extend to many corners of the broader thriller genre.
- Legal thrillers: These thrillers take place within the confines of the court system.
- Psychological thrillers: A psychological thriller novel finds the terror in madness and paranoia.
- Epic thrillers: An epic thriller often involves the highest of stakes. In an epic thriller like Stephen King’s The Stand, humanity itself is imperiled.
Thriller Book Title Ideas
Thriller fiction titles are often short and punchy. They can be stark and contradictory. Think of The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold are some good examples. The titles of crime and thriller novels are mostly fewer than five words, and they are easy to remember. The tone of these books is often clinical, menacing, and macabre. The mood created is suspenseful, unsettling, and stark. The title you give it will have a life of its own. It is the first thing a reader will notice. You need to think about agents and editors, plot and characters, the reader, and market trends. The title is what people see first. It’s what they remember when they go home to look the book up. It’s what they say when they recommend the book to others. It’s the most important marketing decision that a writer can make because, while a good title can’t make a book popular, it can certainly keep a book from getting sold.
Some points to consider while naming your book:
- It should suit your genre.
- It must have something to do with the plot.
- It should be easy to remember.
- It should appeal to the reader on an emotional and intellectual level.
- It should be easy to pronounce.
- Short names are better. As a rule, most book titles are three words. Most books do not have a title longer than five words.
- Visual titles work well.
- The title should also reveal a bit about the soul/theme of your book.
Thriller Book Plot Ideas
In terms of literature, a thriller is any story that “thrills” the reader—i.e., gets the adrenaline pumping, the heart racing, and the emotions peaked. As you can guess, that makes it fairly broad. The ability to see a story idea hiding in the mundane is one of the most valuable creative writing skills you can develop. Sometimes all it takes when confronting the blank page is a handful of story prompts and a willingness to see where they take you. Any story can generate excitement, suspense, interest, and exhilaration, but because these are the primary goals of the thriller genre, its authors have laser-focused expertise in keeping a reader interested. Use these fiction writing prompts as writing exercises or to work through writer’s block. They will surely help the beginners to get started:
- Go out into the world and observe an ordinary scene: Write it down in your notebook, filling at least one page with a description of the setting and the people in it. Now change the story, and imagine that everything you’ve just described is not what it seems, but that a whole secret underworld exists within the scene. Let yourself be paranoid.
- Select two stories at random from any news source, and plausibly link them: Write down a description of how the two stories are secretly related. Tease out unexpected connections between the people and elements of both stories. Don’t be afraid to make unusual leaps.
- Put a dark twist on a well-worn cliché from the fairy tales you grew up with: Adopt the perspective of the villain, or a minor character, and tell the story from anywhere but the beginning.
- Write a story loosely based on real life, but take it in a different direction: Write a story that begins based on any ordinary aspect of life, but then diverges from reality.
- Leverage dramatic irony to ramp up the suspense: Create suspense throughout the story and use dramatic irony effectively.
- Build a suspense story around science fiction tropes: Write a dystopian, sci-fi world defined by continual blackouts, where fire, light, and a few traces of outdated technology define survival and are scarce enough to kill for.
- Have fun with a weird idea: Go for the unthinkable and try exploring it further.
How to Write a Good Thriller Story?
A few key tips can unlock the secrets of thriller writing—and the suspense, tension, and plot twists that keep readers on the edge of their seats. This is the common structure or framework followed for all the thriller books.
- Make your main character compelling: Good thrillers often feature protagonists that are flawed and complex. On the one hand, your protagonist should be strong or skilled enough to overcome the obstacles they’ll inevitably face. On the other hand, readers relate to imperfect heroes, and having the main character with flaws will increase the tension and stakes of your story. Before writing, brainstorm elements of your protagonist’s backstory. Having a deep, three-dimensional main character is an essential ingredient of a successful thriller.
- Make sure your opening scene has plenty of action: When writing thrillers, the opening scene is particularly important. Readers should be on the edge of their seats from the very first page. The opening scene of a thriller novel should introduce the crime, conflict, or stakes as quickly as possible. Don’t worry about character backstory or exposition just yet. The best thrillers hook their readers with instant action, then fill in the necessary character and storyline information later.
- Create an interesting villain: In the same way that your protagonist should be flawed and complex, your central villain should not simply be pure evil. Even if their actions are unforgivable, their motivations should be rooted in a relatable desire or emotion. Readers are more likely to be engaged in your villain’s story and character development if they can recognize seeds of themselves in your antagonist.
- Build obstacles for your protagonist: If there’s one thing that all bestselling authors of thrillers are good at, it’s putting their characters in harm’s way. Your main character should experience heartbreak, trauma, and anxiety throughout the book. Sometimes, the most effective obstacle is a ticking clock or strict time limit to complete their task. This will ensure that readers are constantly rooting for your protagonist and will continue to flip the pages to see how the hero wriggles out of danger. Obstacles will also increase the narrative satisfaction of the end of the book when your protagonist finally overcomes the hurdles and triumphs over adversity.
- Add plenty of plot twists and turning points: More so than any other genre, thriller novel writing requires the story to contain an abundance of plot twists, turning points, and cliffhangers. If you’re experiencing writer’s block when writing a scene, ask yourself what a reader might expect to happen next. How can you subvert those expectations? If a scene feels uneventful, think about what plot element or character you can introduce to raise the stakes or create a dilemma for your protagonist. Plot twists will ensure that your thriller is a page-turner and make it impossible for your reader to put it down.
How to Start a Thriller Story?
Write the opening, but don’t get hung up here. This scene is crucial, and the weight of it can cripple you right out the gate. Don’t let that happen. Just write the scene, and move on. Later, when you have a better handle on the tone and direction of the story, you can return with laser focus and perfect this scene. The three things to remember are to start with a character, in a setting, with a problem. And make the reader care about what happens next. The opening scene is a pivotal moment in any book. In thrillers, it’s especially important because you need to start with action from the get-go. Oftentimes starting in media res is a good way to accomplish this. Avoid an “info dump” where you accidentally include too many irrelevant background details. You don’t necessarily need to start with murder — in fact, in some thrillers, there isn’t one at all, or it doesn’t happen until halfway through the novel — but you need to start with something exciting that sets the protagonist in motion.
How to End a Thriller Story?
The climax is a pivotal scene in your book, so make sure you dedicate time to polishing it and make it really shine. In particular, it may be helpful to write the climax first so that you already know where your characters need to end up. Once you’ve established that, you can pave their way through your plot twists. A satisfying ending isn’t necessarily a “happily ever after.” Keep in mind the kind of story you’ve been telling so far and make sure the ending fits well. In some cases, you may want to completely tie all the threads and answer all the questions. Or you might want to leave it as an open ending, where the final conclusions are left to the reader’s interpretation. If you plan to write a series of books, then a cliffhanger might be the way to keep readers on the hook. Whatever kind of conclusion you go for, remember that it’s always necessary to wrap up the current action so that there’s a sense of satisfaction at the end of the book.
How to Publish a Thriller Book?
The first step in becoming a published thriller author, naturally, is to write a great book! If you’ve added layers of suspense, amped up the chills and thrills to 11, and gotten solid feedback from your initial test readers, it might be time to think about unleashing your creation on the world. To make the most of your author career, you need a great partner—someone who knows the ins and outs of the publishing world as well as you know every twist and turn of your plot. To get your book published, you might need help with every aspect of publishing your thriller from plotting to branding, publishing, distribution, marketing, and more. Approaching a publishing company can be helpful in such cases. One might also opt for self-publishing or online publishing of their works.