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I am writing a thriller, but even though it is filled with exciting events, it is starting to feel boring to me.

My Scenario: This girl (Freya) has amnesia and the doctor that is helping her(Lana) who is also a single mother has a lost daughter who ran away from home. So they have each other. Freya finds a love interest (Casey) who is helping her with everything and a new gay best friend (Troye). Weird things happens around her like she feels like someone is watching her, trying to scare her or trying to kill her. She remembers few of her memories within the chapters, like her name and that she had a family and that she was once in love with someone really possessive of her. The doctor she lives with, founds out that Freya lost her memory due to some rare drugs.

What is it that helps a good thriller capture its audience? How do you make it more than just a series of events?

  • I would say that if you made the question more about the title I could answer it, but I think it would still be way to broad for this site – Andrey Aug 29 '18 at 13:21
  • Hi Yass Meen. I have edited your question to make it less specifically about your own book, and more general. I have also nominated it to be reopened. – Chris Sunami Aug 29 '18 at 15:28
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    Gosh! One of the things that makes thrilling writing is tension.... With this topic on hold I think we have a winner :-) And, for what it's worth, a discussion of "What is it that helps a good thriller capture its audience? How do you make it more than just a series of events?" I think could be illuminating. A discussion would make a fun and interesting discussion (IMHO). – BeNice Aug 29 '18 at 16:46
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    Until you are reopened (I voted), you need progress, a story line, etc. memories recovered, her independent investigation revealing the mystery, more mystery about these new friends, escalating conflict or tension: She thinks somebody is watching her. She comes "home" (her apartment) and her door is unlocked; she was sure she locked it. Then all her tires go flat but aren't punctured, some kids pranking her. Then her brake lines are cut, definitely more than a prank. Through it all she can't just be a passive punching bag, she needs to be actively trying to solve the mystery. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Aug 29 '18 at 19:24
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    @Amadeus You should turn your comment into an answer - it's really good! – kiltannen Aug 30 '18 at 0:08
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The defining characteristic of the thriller genre is suspense. That is, the audience expects something bad to happen.

Suspense can be created if the audience knows more than the main character. For example, when Little Red Riding Hood starts talking to the wolf, we expect her to be eaten, while she is blissfully unaware of any danger.

Suspense can also be created if the audience does not know more than the main character: Little Red Riding Hood might be startled by moving shadows under the trees, but neither she nor the audience know what exactly lurks there.

The danger should draw nearer as the story progresses - like a wolf stalking its prey and drawing ever nearer. This way, the reader is always on the edge of their seat, expecting the wolf to pounce at any moment. It might be that the wolf gains some advantage, or Little Red Riding Hood suffers a setback - perhaps she is hurt, and the wolf can now smell her blood.

So how does this relate to your story? First, you must know for yourself what is the danger, the wolf, chasing Freya. Is it Lana? Is it someone you have not yet introduced? What are their goals with regards to Freya? How would they try to achieve them?

Now that you know how the wolf would act, plan their actions to start small and escalate from there. What are the first hints Freya begins to get that something is wrong, that something is lurking under the trees? Does she notice those hints, or does she miss them for some reason, and only the reader knows? (If you're not telling the story in first person, things can happen with your MC not in the scene. Even in first person, there might be things the MC doesn't know while the reader does. You might make use of Freya's amnesia.)

At some point, your MC would have to become active, whether only to escape the wolf, or to achieve some additional goal. This can happen early in the story (the MC acts to find out what chases them), or later (the MC knows what the danger is, and acts to avoid it).

There might be additional stakes - friends, family. There need to be setbacks - every time it looks like the MC is getting on top of things, something new should throw them back down. It's through this painful struggle, through escaping the wolf by the skin of the MC's teeth, that the happy ending is made satisfying. And from this it also follows that the final confrontation needs to be the most dangerous of all. The MC can't go into it with any surety of succeeding. She must face a danger that was sufficiently dramatic to pose a challenge throughout the story, and prevail.

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Love the question!

IMO It is very distinct from the gore fest that makes a good horror. A good thriller will grab your interest - you won't be able to put it down. It will sometimes leave you breathless. It will leave you wanting more every time you have to turn the page. And you will feel a sense of loss when the book is done, not because the ending was unsatisfying, but because you are so invested that you can't bear to leave the story. It will at the same time leave you satisfied knowing that the conclusion you have reached makes perfect sense.

You KNOW all of these things about thrillers, This is not what you are asking, what you want to know is HOW to create all of these sensations in your reader. As a reader, I recognise that the writers who have created this response in me are those who can effectively capture the tension of the emotions of our protaganist & sometimes the villain as well. It is a challenge to how to create the emotive response of the villain, as ideally your reader will be completely in the dark about the identity of the villain until the last passage. In some respects this can also add to the tension, because you are presenting the motives and emotions of the villain through the lens of your main character, and possibly the supporting cast.

Part of the tension can be created by having the protagonist doubt their supporting cast. Initially they love and relate to them, but then they can begin to suspect they have have something to do with their predicament. In your story this would play out in Freya having real doubts at some point about the motivation of Lana, Casey and Troye.

It is the emotion and interpersonal interactions that create story, and it is the unknown tension of fear that creates tension. If you can generate a real fear in your reader that either Freya's love will be betrayed, or that her actual life is in danger, especially from one of her close supporting characters then you are likely to create the kind of thriller your readers will enjoy.

Adding in a plot twist of her becoming certain of the enmity of one of her close friends, only to have them proved to be true friends, and revealing a different character to in fact be the villain will generate the kind of mental whiplash that will work at drawing your readers in. All the better if you can turn your story into a multipart series this way.

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Thrillers are about nearly constant conflict and keeping the reader constantly wondering how something will turn out in the next few minutes / pages.

I say "nearly" because you need some "story" scenes in there, pauses for the reader to catch their breath and learn what happened, but more so than any other movie, the thriller is a battlefield in a war zone. Problems are not solved by emotional connection, cooperation, conversation and tender new understanding. Problems are both created and solved by physical confrontation, clever subterfuge and misdirection, spying. The villains are implacable, the hero (as expert as the hero may be) is in danger and the underdog, at a distinct disadvantage, fighting long odds and taking crazy risks. Think Die Hard, 007, Denzel in The Equalizer, Kingsmen, Jason Bourne, John Wick, the movie Taken. Fearless experts all, fighting overwhelming odds and taking crazy risks to prevail.

The story lines in Thrillers tend to be fairly simplistic and straight forward, to make room for the action scenes.

The hero cannot be a punching bag, they must be actively trying to solve their problem, whether it is personal (John Wick is avenging the murder of his dog, Liam in Taken is saving his kidnapped daughter) or trying to save the world (most of them).

Your hero needs to be moving forward in some way. The first mystery is "who she is", so she has a few memories; she needs to be investigating them to try and recover. Who is she? There can be more mystery about these new friends; does she really know them?

You need escalating conflict or tension: She thinks somebody is watching her, a black sedan follows her. The conflict escalates because she learns things and is getting closer to the truth, so those who hold the truth are sending more resources after her.

She comes "home" (her apartment) and her door is unlocked; she was sure she locked it. Then all her tires go flat but aren't punctured, some kids pranking her. It forces her to take an Uber to work (or wherever she goes during the day), and she keeps looking behind her. No black sedan. But the Uber driver is very talkative and inquisitive, that seems weird. Is that a bad guy, or just a weird guy?

Then her brake lines are cut, that is definitely more than a prank.

You need a plot reason for her to be in her damaged state with amnesia; and she doesn't know what it is, but she is unsettled, in the middle of something dangerous without knowing why at all. Then, she needs some trait or skill that is going to let her prevail against this. Perhaps she is extremely intelligent, or we (the readers) discover she is courageous; not necessarily without fear but she proceeds despite fear. Maybe she is a hacker and did not know that, but you devise a scene in which she is alone trying to find something on the Internet, and she hacks into some place by muscle memory; ideas on what to do next just come to her. Perhaps she is attacked and learns she knows self-defense by muscle memory.

Your plot is similar to both the series Blind Spot (amnesiac heavily tattooed woman, first season anyway) and The Bourne Identity (amnesiac government assassin, in the first movie).

That doesn't mean you shouldn't write it, but it might be worth seeing them, both to avoid copying too closely, but to take notes on how such stories are structured.

The key here is not just one mystery (who is this girl) but a chain of mysteries and problems to solve, each of them harrowing, each of them delivering another bit of useful information. For the thriller, you have to keep the reader wondering what happens next, or what the hero will DO next, or what that new bit of useful information MEANS as the hero tries to figure it out in the recovery period after some action scene.

The Thriller is not just about "how does this book end?", it needs to be about "Should I stay up reading another twenty pages to find out what happens next?"

And every time they do; and finish that twenty pages, they should be faced with that same question again. That is what makes a Thriller.

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There are several aspects to writing a good thriller. The genre requires a disciplined style of writing which goes against the natural inclination of most new writers. The tension is created by detailing facts without immediate explanation. This causes the reader to generate possible motives and justifcations that may or may not exist.

e.g. Granddad has been confined to a wheelchair since Thanksgiving 2010. Bob has been in prison since 2011. Granddad is not allowed to be home alone with 5-year-old Katy.

At this point the writer needs a sense of reader patience. How many pages can the writer make the reader turn before confirming or denying any relationships between the stated facts.

Misdirection and precision are other essential qualities.

e.g. Examine the following.

(1) John waited until the front door opened. "John Jackson. LAPD," he said, waving his badge. "Do you mind answering a few questions?"

(2) After his daughter went missing John Jackson went door-to-door pretending to be a police officer.

It shows the power provided by showing rather than telling. We show the reader facts and let make assumptions.

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