978-0-89879-928-6 / 9780898799286

Writing the Thriller


Publisher:Writer's Digest Books



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About the book:

The first thing T. Macdonald Skillman sets out to do in Writing the Thriller is define the thriller. Unlike the mystery, she says, "Suspense is emotional. It's surprise and confusion and fear and anticipation. And suspense is danger. Immediate danger." Thrillers come in a variety of guises: action-adventures; legal, medical, techno-, and political thrillers; psychological suspense; romantic-relationship suspense; women-in-jeopardy suspense. Skillman addresses each element of fiction writing--such as setting, dialogue, and point of view--as it applies to the various types of thriller. For all thrillers, she says, it is best to begin "in the midst of the action or danger"; any subsequent back story should "add a new dimension to the suspense itself." And the pacing should be "like climbing a long, steep series of stairways.... As you cling to the railing at the bottom of the last set of stairs, your heart is pounding; your lungs are burning." Most useful here are Skillman's case studies in plotting, for which she creates eight plots (one for each type of thriller) using the same cast of characters.

For the book's final 60 pages, Skillman hands the baton to 11 thriller writers. From Clive Cussler (Flood Tide), we learn that never growing up is "a pretty good prerequisite for writing action-adventure novels." Both Michael Connelly (Blood Work) and Tess Gerritsen (Bloodstream) discuss how their genre can be used to tap into what ills the near future holds. Richard North Patterson (Degree of Guilt) likes to consult with psychologists to get a handle on his characters' motivations, while Mary Willis Walker (All the Dead Lie Down) "love[s] doing research that feels a little bit risky." And any thriller writer would be wise to keep John Gilstrap's (Nathan's Run) words in mind: "If you're going to write convincing suspense, you ought to be scared of it yourself." --Jane Steinberg

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