Putting the Thrill in Thriller Stories – Part 3
Along with the obvious things like great characters, a tight plot, carefully woven sub plots, conflicts, emotion and motivations, there are a few more aspects to help put the thrill into thriller stories.
Whether readers realise it or not, all stories are about the human psyche. It’s not just a story. It’s about why people do what they do, because human behaviour lies at the heart of every story and the best thrillers capitalise on this. They bring reasoning into the story – they show us why characters behave in a certain way, they show us the motivations and emotions behind their actions, and by doing this they make their characters intriguing, interesting, clever, sinister...all the things great characters should be.
Readers want to understand how a character’s mind works. It’s simple psychology. Because to understand the characters is to empathise with and care for them, and that pulls them right into the story. And with thrillers, there are all manner of human traits and behaviours to explore – that’s what makes those types of stories so alluring to readers; they’re desperate to get under the skin of every character, to try to figure out what they will do next, how they might react, and they even try to guess the outcome of story.
The best thrillers perfectly pit the protagonist and antagonist in all manner of ways, usually in a cat and mouse scenario, where they toy with other. Other writers tip the scales in the bad guy’s favour for much of the story, which allows them to manipulate the reader until the last moment when the hero finally wins the day.
They’re all designed to keep the reader glued to the story. They play with perceptions of human behaviour. Almost every thriller story will have some element of simple psychology lurking beneath the surface – so let your readers get into your characters’ minds. Give them reasoning.
Absolutely no story would be complete without thorough research. Knowledge is everything. And thrillers are no exception. There could be a scene with someone handling a venomous spider. There might be a scene that involves breaking into a house. A character might have to use a certain weapon. There might be real life location where the action takes place. Characters might be fishing, or climbing or some other special sport.
The point? None of us are experts at everything, so you would need to know all about the venomous spider. You would need to know the tricks burglars use to break into houses. You would need to understand about the weapons you have in your story, you’d need to know all there is to know about that real life location and you’ll need to know about fishing or climbing or whatever else you have your characters do. Many thriller stories centre on police procedures. Others might be more clandestine, like a secret service. You may need to know about forensics or how certain drugs affect the human body.
In fact, writing a thriller might entail a great deal of research for just about anything you have no actual knowledge about, because while we can imagine much of our fictional worlds, reality is different, and many readers will have some knowledge about a few things, and it’s those readers who will know if you haven’t done your research.
That knowledge adds realism to the story, but don’t go overboard and bombard readers with facts and figures. The reader doesn’t need to know absolutely every aspect within the scene. They only need snippets of knowledge for there to be any realism.
Lastly, don’t skimp on a well thought out, satisfactory ending. There’s nothing worse than reading a good thriller, only for the ending to be a disappointing, damp squib. That will undermine the entire story.
Give your reader a satisfying ending; one that escalates to a climax and then ties all the loose ends and subplots, and answers all the questions. It doesn’t matter if the hero defeats the bad guys, or he dies, or whether the ending is left open or has a final twist – it has to fit the story.
Leave the reader saying, “Wow, that was amazing...”
And that’s the best invite to read your next novel.