I’m fairly new to the genre having written three thrillers with a fourth – The Secret Mother – in the making. But I’ve had a great response so far, so I thought I’d share how I go about writing them. Take from my writing experiences what you will.
I used to be a
fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants girl with a general idea of plot, but nothing
concrete. On average it would take me eight months to write a novel with much
wailing and gnashing of teeth in between. Now, I plot the novel right down to
the final twist, and move it one stage further by taking my basic plot and
outlining each chapter in detail. Using this method, my last three thrillers each
took me 2-3 months to complete, mainly because I knew exactly what I was going
to write each day – there were no blank spots leading to writer’s block. I
can’t believe I left it so many years to work this way. It’s a revelation.
Each chapter must work hard to
add to the story. If it doesn’t move the plot along then it doesn’t belong.
I always keep in mind my character arc and the overall theme of the story. I
try to treat each chapter like a mini-story, with its own build up and climax,
ending each chapter with an unsettled feeling or a question to be answered,
drawing the reader along so they always get that urge to read ‘just one more
A strong plot is all very well,
but I also want an interesting main character. A character who goes on his or
her own personal journey aside from what’s going on around them. So they start
off at point A, but finish – changed in some way – at point B. If the reader
doesn’t care about the character and their goals, they won’t care about the
Because I write psychological
thrillers, I concentrate hard on the level of suspense in the book, keeping it
rising with each chapter, backing the protagonist into terrible scenarios –
physical or emotional – where the reader wonders what the hell they would do in
that situation. I’ve had readers tell me they’ve yelled at my characters,
telling them to do xyz to get out of their situation. Another reader wanted to
climb into the pages and ‘beat the crap out of’ one of the bad guys in The Best Friend. As well as plot and
dialogue, I like to use symbolism, such as weather, scenery etc. to subtly add to
the atmosphere, layering the tension bit by bit until the reader has no
If I’m adding twists to the plot
(which I always do), I try to ensure they don’t come completely out of nowhere.
There’s a fine balance between tipping the reader off too early, and not
foreshadowing at all so the twist feels too sudden and out of place, leaving
the reader feeling annoyed or confused. Unless you’re going for a subtle build
towards the revelation, you want the reader to discover the twist, drop their
jaw in disbelief, think ‘of course’
and immediately reread the book to find the exact place in the narrative where
the twist was originally hinted at. That’s a five-star review, right there ;)
Of course, you can’t please all
of the people all of the time. But, as long as most of my readers are happy,
then so am I.
I hope these insights into my
writing process have helped somewhat. I’m always learning and striving to
improve, but these are my discoveries so far. Happy psych-thriller writing!