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.”