Who doesn’t love a good thriller? But writing one involves more than out smarting the bad guy, and author Jacqui Jacoby tells us why.
I never set out to be a thriller writer. I always thought I leaned toward action/adventure, with a twist of romance. I don‘t mind it all that is where I ended up. The stories are harder to write than mere action, but it was challenge I was able to face.
- Romance means a character meets a character and fireworks fly across the page.
- Action/adventure is the idea that somewhere in that story these characters are going to go somewhere where an escapade begins. I think it’s safe to say action will insure.
- Defining action: that adventure that started is going to take some twists not anticipated and those twists will take your characters on a wild ride.
An action/adventure will change the way your characters see their lives.
A thriller will change the way they see their world.
Whereas the premise that action is happening, it is action that has a unforeseeable conclusion that will lead the characters down a dark corridor.
Whatever the characters are facing, it is an experience that is theirs alone.
That is a valuable quality in a relationship, it pulls them closer, makes them realize this person is experiencing this event with me. They will turn to each other for support. They may have doubt and blame the other, if only for a moment … “If you had turned left instead of right, we wouldn’t be facing this disaster … “ It doesn’t last as they come to realize they need each other to get to the other side of normal.
There are two primary elements to writing a thriller. The first and foremost is the villain. If there is not an adequate villain to put in front of your characters, if he is too easy to defeat, the point of the thriller is lost. Does a villain have to be flesh and blood? No, not at all. Think Jaws and you were realize man was going up against “twenty-five feet with three tons on him …” ~Jaws
Creating a decent villain is the same process as creating your hero. You plan, you plot, and you get to know them in order to know how far they will go and what is their kryptonite.
For Dead Men Play the Game I plotted out Walter Bennett’s background to the point of before he was even turned into a vampire. I knew what he was like human. And those writer’s labeling their villain with “Ah, he’s just a psychopath, that’s why he does it…” is not the most well rounded way to go–too common and easy to use.
SPOILER: Walter was a psychopath. I didn’t know that when I started. I knew that after I became afraid of the dark for awhile.
MORE SPOILERS: When I was done fleshing him into existence, I knew that he had killed six people in the area where he was raised -– including his younger sister – before the vampire who turned him offered the chance to kill forever. Walter didn’t even try to decline. Walter was psychotic. He was a serial killer before anyone knew that was meant. His obsession with Ian Stuart didn’t derive so much from “Walter’s long lost love” but rather from the concept Ian walked away and never bowed to the threats mixed with the declarations. Walter was twisted beyond words, but his goal was revenge plain and simple.
Know your villain enough to be cautious at night when you walk into that room before you turn the light on.
The other primary element in a thriller is escalation.
Which is actually a very simple concept: your heroine is faced with an ex-boyfriend who she realizes is demented and she wants out. Enter hero, Sean Branigan –Bystander.
Whereas the inciting incident might be stubble–a hang up call, for instance. The next incident will take that up a notch—watching her work and she actually doesn’t know until he sends her the photos. When the next thing happens, it’s scarier, she’s more helpless. The pattern continues –- each event scarier than the last until the final climax hits full force and no one is safe.
Balancing the events of terror in the story is also important. You don’t want forty-seven separate incidents before the climactic scene—I used five in Bystander.
The placement of events: you do want to stay with odd numbers verses even numbers of events. Presenting an even number creates the feeling of balance, even when you are not aware the mind is filing. Odd numbers force your brain to seek interest, it makes your thoughts move in an unexpected patterns. It keeps you on your toes. Makes you just a little closer to “What was that noise?”
Writing thrillers is a bit more work than writing a straight romance. I am half-panster/half-plotter but when working on a thriller I do have to have that minimum of planning of what event happens where, where does it take us, and finally, place them in position of the plot then work around that to create the rest of the story.
Seeing these stories unfold with comments from readers of “I couldn’t put it down …” makes it worth every moment of aggravation I might face putting a story together.
What are some of your favorite thriller reads? If you’re working on a thriller, what’s been the biggest challenge you’ve encountered?
DEAD MEN PLAY THE GAME – For a hundred years, Ian Stuart has fought the monster controlling his life. Living as a human among humans, he wants to fill the void that has followed him from one empty, lonely relationship to another other. Ashley Barrow is working the worst murder case in Davenport, Oregon’s history. She needs a drink to forget the detailed images in her mind. When she walks into Ian’s pub, Ian knows their lives are about to change.
Bio: Award-winning author Jacqui Jacoby lives and writes in the beauty of Northern Arizona. Currently adjusting to being an empty nester with her first grandchild to draw her pictures, Jacqui is a self-defense hobbyist. Having studied martial arts for numerous years she retired in 2006 from the sport, yet still brings strength she learned from the discipline to her heroines. She is a working writer, whose career includes writing books, teaching online and live workshops and penning short nonfiction. To learn more about Jacqui, visit her website, her blog, or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
- Jacqui Jacoby presents: Heroines Can Save Themselves
- Boundaries of Imagination by Jacqui Jacoby
- Weekly Lecture Schedule – July 6th to July 10th
- The External Story vs. The Internal Story with Lori Wilde
- How to Save Your Story from Slumping in the Middle by the Writer’s Relief Staff