Shortly after finishing From the Shadows by Neil White, I reflected on thrillers and the various techniques authors use to provoke a wide range of emotions on their readers. I have read some truly wonderful Thrillers this year and, after comparing the aspects that make them stand out to the rest, I decided to summarise my thoughts in this week’s Studious Saturday post.
A bold start
The first few chapters are without a doubt the most vital in engaging the reader and introducing the story line and main characters. In particular, thrillers need a strong start to excite the reader and encourage them to keep reading. Without this technique, the story already feels sluggish and the writing usually falls flat before the main events unfold.
This often applies to all genres because we need to be able to relate to the characters, or at least find them likeable. However, it’s crucial that characters are complex and mysterious in Thrillers, especially murder mysteries, because often the story line rapidly changes to suggest that one character may be the culprit until another piece of evidence is discovered and we find out that another character could be the murderer. I also believe that it’s possible, although difficult, to build a successful character-driven thriller while not focusing as much on the plot, although I know that others may disagree with me here.
An unexpected plot twist
Perhaps the most “thrilling” aspect is a huge plot twist that we didn’t see coming. Without this, the story may feel incomplete and not as gripping. Many Thrillers build up in suspense and and tension slowly until the big reveal whereas others shock with an abrupt and unpredictable twist. Both techniques are incredibly powerful when used correctly and both have their place as the author may decide which to use depending on how they plan on developing the plot.
It is often difficult for many authors to achieve a good level of rhythm and it usually depends on many other factors – whether they are striving for a plot-driven rather than a character-driven book and if they wish to keep the reader guessing until the final chapter or rather focus on the events surrounding the mystery in a more reflective manner. Personally, I am a huge fan of fast-paced Thrillers as I am usually more eager to carry on reading until finishing the book in a few sittings. However, as pacing depends on other factors, I am open to reading slower-paced Thrillers or ones with a variety in rhythm if well executed.
An appropriate ending
The final chapters are essential for a hard-hitting and noteworthy Thriller and often this is the deciding factor for many readers on whether they found the book successful or not. I have read some brilliant Thrillers that have convinced me to read until the end to only find a disappointing and odd ending that doesn’t correspond to the rest of the story line and doesn’t provide a satisfying conclusion. An excellent Thriller requires an appropriate conclusion to tie up all lose ends and explain the mystery in a convincing manner. Of course, this would depend if the book is a standalone or a part of a series, in which case ending on a cliffhanger could work, but either way the author needs to find the right balance between a gripping final few chapters and the right pace to conclude the story.
What do you believe are the factors that make a thriller truly thrilling? Do you agree with my suggestions and would you add any other points?