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Creative writing thriller

Creative writing thriller

This page talks about how to write a thriller. It is just one of many creative lessons on this website with tips for writing a novel or a short story. At the bottom of the page, you’ll find links more pages on how to write fiction, plus the chance to take a free creative writing course.

How to write a thriller – what’s a thriller
  • racing pulse
  • sweaty palms
  • staying up all night
  • missing your subway stop
  • compulsive reading in inappropriate places (in class, under the conference table at a business meeting)
  • crashing your car because you were trying to read behind the wheel.

So what are thrillers about? There are a lot of subcategories – spy thrillers, political thrillers, psychological thrillers. Many, but not all thrillers are about violent crime, but they are different from mysteries because of the angle they take. A mystery is about solving a crime that has already happened. The killer’s identity is hidden until the end because otherwise, there would be no mystery — right? A thriller is about a crime (or another type of disaster) that is about to happen . unless the hero can stop it. The reader often knows who the villain is from the very beginning — even watches over the villain’s shoulder as evil is being committed.

How to write a thriller – thrilling characters

Unlike other types of fiction, thrillers often divide characters clearly along lines of good and evil. There is a hero(ine) or a team of hero(ine)s, and there is a villain or a team of them.

But this doesn’t excuse you, the writer, from doing your character development homework. The more real you can make both the hero and the villain to readers, the more interesting your book will be. Read more about character development here.

How to write a thriller – thrilling plots

When it comes to thrillers, take everything you’ve learned about plot development, and multiply it by ten (if you haven’t studied plot development, you can do it here). Turn up the heat! Add time pressure if that works with your storyline, to make things even more tense. Keep raising the stakes. Pile on the trouble until your poor hero looks like a goner.

But make sure your hero has enough strengths that there can be a real fight. Otherwise, the story will seem to be over before it’s begun. And if you decide to have a happy ending, it’s more satisfying if this comes from the hero’s actions and strengths, not as a gift dropped out of the sky.

One way of building excitement is to keep shifting the advantage from one side to another. First, it looks like the hero’s a goner, but then there is a ray of hope. But the ray of hope turns out to be an illusion. The enemy grows. But then the hero gets an ally.

Plan your thriller so that the story gets more and more exciting until it reaches a peak, which is called the story climax. The climax should happen right before the end of the book. While in a mystery, the climax is when the hero discovers the killer’s identity, in a thriller, the climax is when the hero stops the enemy (or is conquered by the enemy if you are not after a happy ending).

How to write a thriller – ideas for thrillers:
  • Your hero discovers a secret conspiracy of enemies (for example, a secret political or criminal organization).
  • The villain has discovered the hero’s point of psychological weakness and is playing mind games with the hero. The hero will have to overcome this psychological weakness in order to stop the villain from committing a crime.
  • A crime is about to happen. Or a crime has happened and is about to be repeated as a larger crime. The hero alone can stop it. For example, there are many thrillers about serial killers, who kill at least once at the beginning of the book and who, if not stopped, will commit more and even worse crimes.
  • The hero is trying to stop a disaster (medical, nuclear, environmental, political) that has spread out of control.
  • The hero is involved in a dramatic court case that has drastic consequences outside of the courtroom.
How to write a thriller – tricks of the trade:
  • Cliffhangers – You can create suspense by ending chapters or sections of the novel at a moment of suspense, so that the reader keeps going to find out what happens.
  • Ticking clock – Thrillers often include a race against time; for example, a bomb that will go off in 12 hours, or a criminal who will be executed in two days if he is not proven innocent. The ticking clock element adds to the reader’s adrenaline rush.
  • Show evil over the evildoer’s shoulder – It often adds to the excitement if the reader can actually watch the villain in action and see the crimes taking place.
  • Make it personal and specific – This is a very important point. If your thriller is about the risk of a bomb going off, introduce the reader to Sue and John, the nice couple in Missouri, who will be blown to bits when it happens.

If your thriller is about a terrible disease that is taking over the Earth, introduce the reader to Jenny Jones, engaged to be married and daydreaming about her honeymoon. when green bile starts to spurt out of her nose and ears; poor Jenny writhes in agony, then collapses dead over her stack of wedding invitations. That makes the disease real for the reader.

BEST THRILLER AND SUSPENSE WRITING PROMPTS

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Showing 42 prompts reset

It’s Called Fashion, Look it Up

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Write a near-future thriller where a piece of everyday technology has turned against your character — and only your character.

Thriller and Suspense – 137 stories

Write about someone who doesn’t remember their past — and doesn’t want to.

Thriller and Suspense – 212 stories

Write about a character who everyone thinks is guilty of something terrible, but isn’t.

Thriller and Suspense – 187 stories

Write a thriller about someone who witnesses a murder… except there’s no evidence that a murder took place.

Thriller and Suspense – 227 stories

Write about a vampire or werewolf who moves into a quiet suburban neighborhood.

Thriller and Suspense – 168 stories

Write about a character who can suddenly only “remember” their future, not their past.

Thriller and Suspense – 133 stories

Write a post-apocalyptic thriller.

Thriller and Suspense – 147 stories

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Write about someone who purposefully causes a power outage.

Thriller and Suspense – 152 stories

Write a thrilling adventure of a special agent who is harboring a paranormal secret.

Thriller and Suspense – 50 stories

You go for a walk and accidentally bump into someone. They feel the bump, but the person can’t seem to hear or see you.

Thriller and Suspense – 53 stories

You go to visit your neighbor. When you ring the doorbell, a stranger appears and tells you that your neighbor has been dead for ten years.

Thriller and Suspense – 51 stories

Write a story about a character who goes to great lengths to cover up a mistake.

Thriller and Suspense

Write a story about a character who can’t figure out when they’re dreaming or awake.

Thriller and Suspense

Write a story in which you are an author trying to run from writer’s block, which is an actual object that’s chasing you.

Thriller and Suspense

You are hypnotist in the middle of your regular routine. Suddenly, you realize your powers have become real. What do you do?

Thriller and Suspense

The killer disease had reached epidemic proportions. Finally, the cure has been found — but it is even more terrifying than the disease itself.

Thriller and Suspense

You are a therapist and your new patient has a rare but extreme phobia. And you’re about to find out why.

Thriller and Suspense

A newly married couple are on their honeymoon in a sleepy, beachside town. They begin to have the same nightmares every night.

Thriller and Suspense

Recently, the small town you live in has been plagued by various unfortunate events. Today, you became the one person who can stop them.

Thriller and Suspense

You live alone and have just finished playing at your piano. Someone starts clapping for you.

Thriller and Suspense

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A thriller is a fast-paced novel full of suspense, unexpected twists, and high stakes. The narrative is built for the specific purpose to propel the (usually fast-paced) action — taking readers on a rollercoaster.

If you want to write your own thrilling tale, here are a few types you might want to consider:

  • Politics
  • Espionage
  • Psychological
  • Action-adventure
  • Crime
  • Historical
  • Legal
  • Military
  • Domestic

In the meantime, hopefully this list of suspense story prompts will get the creative wheels turning, and have you dreaming up nail-biting, page-turning action!

Want more help learning how to write a short thriller story? Check out How to Write a Short Story That Gets Published — a free, ten-day course by Laura Mae Isaacman, a full-time editor who runs a book editing company in Brooklyn.

Have a story you’re ready to start submitting? Check out our list of writing contests or our directory of literary magazines.

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