Thrill Me

Sorry this is so late.  ( BUT NOT THIS THIS LATE.  Fricking word press.  I pressed “publish” TWICE but they now have this whole “are you really sure?” thing and I guess it glitched.) I’ve been fighting wicked jet-lag which is also interfering with my primary mission of finishing the first draft of Guardian.

This is why I decided to work on Thrillers today, because I’m talking structure, and they are almost exclusively a creature of structure.  Sure, they’re a mystery subgenre because that’s mostly where we encounter it, but it is possible to superimpose the thriller structure on anything and everything from Urban fantasy to… well, anything.

I used it “successfully” (for a definition that says people identify it.  It doesn’t work well int he series as is, and was imposed by an agent for whom thriller=bestseller structure) in All Night Awake, a Shakespearean historical fantasy.

It USUALLY requires a “known perpetrator” when doing a mystery, but Patricia Wentworth often managed to do it with unknown perpetrator, where the scenes with the “monster” give nothing away as to his identity.  These can often be a mix between thriller and “psychological” mysteries, in that the reader is trying to identify which of the seemingly normal characters can act like the monster-chapters.

Okay, so, thriller.

-Open with the “monster” (the criminal/threat/whatever) doing something horrendous.  We now know his range.  If your thriller is a Woman In Peril the horrendous thing he does should be to a woman.  It should also be ABSOLUTELY the worst you can imagine

-Have good guys become aware of the threat.  (Often in thrillers, the people pursuing/trying to stop the threat are acquainted with this particular evil.)  They start trying to track it down.

-intersperse scenes of the “monster” hunting down his victim, with the victim either trying to identify the monster/going about her lawful occasions.

-in that last one, we assume you have more than one victim.  Because the ultimate intended victim almost always needs to be either one of those trying to solve the crime, or the love interest/someone close to those trying to solve the crime.
However, you’re allowed to have multiple victims who look/act/have markers like the ultimate one, in order to make the threat absolutely clear.  You should have the ultimate victim in the monster’s sights from the beginning, though.

– The climax should come to the victim being captured by the monster and ALMOST killed, with intervention/save at the last possible moment, after seeming near impossible.  In a mystery, neutralizing the monster comes straight after unmasking/figuring out who he is/how he’s doing this, etc.

-In non-mystery situations the intended “victim” of the monster can be an entire world/magic system/government/whatever.  The structure is still roughly the same.

Up next week “A bagful of non-police procedurals.”


  1. and then the monster needs to say “and i woulda gotten away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for those %^$$^%$$ kids and their dog.”

            1. Alas, it does seem to confirm a family member’s neurological assessments of Former Secretary Clinton. And makes me tilt my head and stare at the excerpts on the screen in awe and wonder, and thank [favored personal deity] that Trump won.

  2. I wrote one once. Didn’t realize it until my Beta readers mentioned it. More of a man-against-nature story in an SF setting. It was quite fun . . . if I can just duplicate it . . .

  3. Now I doubt what I thought was a thriller was a thriller. That’s the one where the guy discovers he has a past history with the local crime boss, who has offered him a ride, and thinks he’s really “going for a ride.” He’s not, and the crime boss even seems nice … but he had his reasons.

    Now I don’t know what it is. Crime story, maybe? There was most definitely a crime involved.

      1. I’m really having doubts that this one is a thriller structure. There’s no mystery, as there has not yet been a crime. We know the villain is a crime boss under indictment, and there’s tension as the protagonist rides beside him and realizes his previous dealings with him, but the threat is only in the protagonist’s mind.

        However, there is a crime involved, which is revealed at the end of the story, and the protagonist recognizes the part he played in it. But there is no mystery aspect.

      1. Umm … it’s more of a matter of reclassification. I’m not angling for free advertisement, so I haven’t give it’ name. But it does seem to need reclassification.

  4. I’ll bring up Kate Hooper (again) as a good example. Paranormal thrillers, definitely follow the formula outlined here pretty closely. And since it’s print, you can obscure details that would be obvious in other formats (such as “who is that looking in the mirror, and why does he have blood on his hands?” Since it’s paranormal, that can be anything from “he’s the killer” to “he’s having tangible visions of the killer.”)

Comments are closed.