Genre Breakdown: Thriller


Every now and then, everyone needs a healthy dose of suspense. Add in some characters you just can’t seem to figure out, tension you almost can’t stand and a little bit of mystery looming in the margins, and you’ve found yourself a pretty decent thriller.

As always, reading them is, well, a thrill. Writing them, though challenging, can be a journey just as twisted and amusing. 

What makes a thriller novel a thriller novel? 

The main ingredients of a well-constructed thriller novel involve some tension, a little excitement and a few heaping spoonfuls of suspense. There will always be a question unanswered; a suspicious person wandering closer and closer into another character’s personal space. Thriller novels are thrilling because they are always in motion. With every answered question, three more questions leap off the page.

What makes a thriller different from mystery is the amount of action. In a mystery novel, there is a large focus on clues, solving something that has already occurred. In a thriller, that ‘something’ may not have even happened yet—but oh, it’s coming. And when the reader (and sometimes the writer) least expects it.

Recent books and their authors

Zeroes by Chuck Wendig

Power Surge by Ben Bova

Trust No One by Paul Cleave 

How to write successfully in this genre

A large cast of simple characters and black-and-white issues isn’t going to get you very far in a genre that requires stories to move at a constant, rapid-fire pace. Your characters not only have to be diverse; they need to be complicated. Not every person is all good or all bad. And everybody has baggage—use that to your advantage.

Also don’t forget to send a reasonable message through whatever thriller you’re thinking up. Even the best thriller novels wouldn’t be worth much if they didn’t have a good story, and an important message, to go along with them. You should always have a reason for writing a particular story, especially in this case.

You can find a more detailed list of thriller novel essentials here.

You know you’ve always wanted to try one of these. So what are you waiting for? Start your character sketches and outlines. Go where no novelist has ever gone before. Or, do—but dare to take that turn no one else ever saw.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.