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Monday, 18 March 2013
How to Write a Thriller
Thriller writer, Clinton Smith, has written down a checklist that he refers to when he writes his thrillers. You can download five of his books from the Buzzword site. His list is compiled from advice from his early mentors - an exceptional editor and a best selling crime writer. It's very short. But, for what it's worth, here it is. (For the uninitiated, POV means Point of View):
REMAIN IN THE PRESENT. FLASHBACKS ARE DEADLY. Delete all possible. Best
way to show characters is to put them in a situation that brings out
their qualities - an incident that shows them all as they are - a forced
landing for instance. Private conversations should be overheard by
Hero. (The less you know of the villain's POV, the more mysterious he
* LIMIT POV TO VICTIMS
IT ON THE TOP STORY. A CHARACTER NEEDS TO TAKE US BY THE HAND AND LEAD
US THROUGH THE STORY. Events from Hero's POV because he has gone or been
ordered to places and sees them.
* HERO NOT JUDGEMENTAL.
* Hero forced to participate in order to survive.
* WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? GOOD NARRATIVE WRITING ALWAYS DRIVES FORWARD. NEEDS PAGE TURNING QUALITY.
* EACH CHAPTER MUST ADVANCE THE PLOT.
* INTEREST MUST BE MAINTAINED. WITHHOLD INFORMATION. We gradually learn details of character's past histories.
* Don't be predictable.
* SHOW. DON'T TELL. If character is a drunk, don't say it, show him getting drunk, let's smell his breath.
* DON'T INTRODUCE TOO MANY CHARACTERS TOO FAST. The rule is one per chapter in ordinary (not thriller style) fiction. In suspense writing they can be used only when the reader is hooked beyond recall.
* BE BELIEVABLE. PEOPLE MUST SEEM REAL.
* DELETE REPETITIOUS DESCRIPTION OF CHARACTERS.
* Include well researched facts for authenticity.(Check research with those who know.)
* SPLIT CHAPTERS. Shorter chapters work.
* TOO MANY ADJECTIVES - LEANER. Remove all surplus adjectives as well as the 'rather's the 'quite's, the 'very's and so on. Also attention to prolixity, overused words.
* DIALOGUE NEEDS 'EDGE'. READ DIALOGUE ALOUD. NO QUOTATIONS. Tell the story through dialogue. But not dialogue that is cosy, coy or wordy. Three word speeches. Cut dialogue to the bone. 'Flip comments don't usually come off. They divert the reader and interfere with the building of tension'. 'Don't leave out subject of the verb too often'. 'Don't show off'. DON'T PHILOSOPHISE IN DIALOGUE.
* Flesh out a pleasantly labyrinthine and complex 'nasty' plot studded with apparently informed facts about a number of subjects, professions and locations which provides 'intelligent escapism'. 'Lively superficial entertainment.'
* Belt out the first draft. Get it all down on paper, then revise by cutting scenes, rounding out characters, adding
* LESS IS MORE.
* STORY MUST BE 'TIGHT, HARD, FAST, TERSE, HOT, DIRTY, TENSE.' 'Have a short, sharp, nasty way of writing violence.' Hard energy.
* WATCH BALANCE AND WEIGHTING. More on action, less on dog food.
* Only break unity of place if it is a natural act 2.
So there you have it. The essentials. The good guts - from someone who knows. And if you want a real treat, download Smith's latest - PROJECT THUNDER from Buzzword. Just $3.99.