What You Can Learn About Writing By Writing Thrillers
I recently finished writing my first book—an action-packed thriller that’s a 110,000-word whopper of a tale.
It was the most fun I’d ever had, but I learned a lot during the process (as we tend to do when we write a book for the first time!).
Part of the process for me was in structure, outlining, and building characters that didn’t seem like cardboard cutouts, but what I want to talk about today is the idea of pacing.
In a thriller, like Dan Brown’s or James Rollins’ stuff, pacing is everything. Lose the tempo, and you lose the reader.
Arguably, it’s no different in any kind of fiction, so I thought this might be a helpful topic to other writers. Here’s a breakdown of things to keep in mind as you write:
1. Everything leads to something.
This might sound obvious, but in your prose everything that happens needs to happen for a reason. As Alfred Hitchcock said, “story is just life with the boring parts cut out.”
You don’t need to constantly be killing bad guys or have an explosion at every turn, a la Michael Bay, but you do need to make sure that every sentence your characters utter and every scene you pen has a purpose of moving the story forward.
2. When you get stuck, do something ridiculous.
This might be more for the “pansters” crowd, but I found that in my thriller whenever I’d get stuck figuring out what to do next, the story was dragging and slow. I’d do well to rewrite the section, change the characters’ goals or motives, or just scrap the whole thing entirely in favor of something more lively and action-packed.
Again, this doesn’t mean you need to blow something up or kill someone—a good strategy might be to just introduce a ridiculous “how-can-they-possibly-overcome-this-situation”-type moment into the plot. Doing this not only moves the story in a new direction and hopefully breathes new life into the scene; it also provides a boost of creativity and problem-solving right-brain activity for you!
3. Work backwards.
Unfortunately, I didn’t do this until it was almost too late, and I spent a few weeks rewriting my story’s introductory scenes. If you want to really close with a bang (like most good thrillers and action/adventure novels), try writing an awesome, powerful, and momentous ending that seems completely implausible first. You’ll have 100,000 words to make it plausible.
Don’t worry about your readers’ “suspension of disbelief.” As a writer, that’s your creative bread and butter, and you’ll have much more fun trying to figure out the twists and impossible turns that lead up to that amazing, culminating scene. Bust out all the stops and forget about second thoughts—you and I both know that the best novels we’ve read end with that uplifting, powerful, or impacting note that only a true “bang” ending can provide.
These endings aren’t an accident—start by figuring out the most creative and cool way you could possibly end the tome, and work backwards from there to get your story and characters to fit onto the path leading to their fate.
Write an ending. Make it the most ridiculous, “out there” ending you can possibly come up with—we don’t need to know who your characters are or why they’re in this situation—just let the juices flow and be creative.
Write for fifteen minutes, and when you’re finished, post your practice in the comments section. And make sure to comment on a few other pieces, too.
Writing should be fun, and if you can have fun writing your ending, you’ll certainly have fun figuring out how to make the rest of the story happen!