I have written many novels and short stories, most of my works involve lots of action, suspense, and most of all drama. When writing anything, having a solid plot means you are off to a good start, but the heart of a thriller involves the characters combined with multiple points of view, to create suspense, suspense will always keep pages turning. Many people find difficulty writing from multiple viewpoints, for me I don’t know how to write another way. Viewpoint writing allows the reader to see into the minds of different characters. Not every character gets a point of view. Usually your core cast, the hero, support character or two and villains. Try limiting viewpoints from three to five characters to keep it simple and easy to follow. The most important element in writing is showing not telling, which is something at first that will frustrate a new writer to hear said to you. If you understand how to show your scenes and instead of mentioning it, the experience will be that more vivid and real to the reader.
“It is cold outside as Jenny walks down to the store; she zips up her coat and can see her breath.”
“The march to the store causes Jenny to pull her coat closer to her body, her breath can clearly be seen as if she exhales a mouth of cigarette smoke.”
The second sentence builds the suspense of walking in the cold, giving visual cues that the writer can reference, most people have walked outside when their breath can be seen, your cues allow them to feel what your character is feeling.
Showing works very well with viewpoint writing. The changing characters helps you to reset between scenes, often when writing out your thoughts, those thoughts might run on, switching characters helps to keep the reader on track. Can you change character points of view during a chapter, the answer is of course, and you should. Especially change characters in the more suspenseful chapters. That doesn’t mean write a paragraph and switch, it should be a full scene, with imagery, vivid descriptions for the emotions of the cast. The reader should be able to understand a character’s emotional level, are they excited, scared, turned on or are they in pain. That means extensive writing will need to take place. For example, my chapters are between 3,000-6,000 words. For a thriller writing around 3,000-4,500 per chapter is good. Each point of view should be around 1,500 words. Writing this way is also good for people who like to take their time, I like to write 1,500, 2,000 words per day. I have about three days per week that I devote to writing per week. That means I write a chapter or two per week.
I take my time for many reasons. One is that writing can’t be forced; it has to be fluid and natural, you need time to let your chapters marinate, your ideas that you think might be good one day might not have that same outlook two days later. Ripping out 10,000 words in a night is okay if you’re submitting a college paper the night before it is due. Doing that on your first novel will set you up for disappointment. You are going to have to read through all those words, a writer can only read through their story so many times before the words look correct but aren’t. But going back and looking through 1,500 words the next morning is much easier.
Writing should be fun; it should be something that you are itching to do that is why it is important that you find it entertaining. You are your best critic, you know what you like, what makes your pulse stop and keeps pages turning. That is why I recommend going back to your favorite thriller and reading it again. Those moments of anxiety you feel while reading are something that needs to be remembered and then expressed in your writing.
The final advice that I can offer when writing a thriller is balance humor, with suspense. A book needs to make a reader feel all sorts of emotions, that is why some humor is needed, I like to make the villains funny as it can humanize them, a villain the audience can relate to keeps them thinking, making them wonder if the good guy can succeed, so in a way the humor can help build the suspense and it earns you a few laughs.
In closing by using multiple points of view you can frame your plot and build the suspense to keep pages turning. It allows you to diversify and create an original cast of characters. Take it slow, have fun, don’t burn yourself out day and night. Think about your scenes, how to show what your characters are seeing and feeling. Then write from a place of comfort and once you complete it and you get to the point that you can’t edit anymore. Hire an editor, do not submit it, it will not be ready. Once you have paid for editing you will understand where the weakest writing is, also take heart not everyone’s first book is publishable but there is no reason your second will not be published. My next blog post will detail editors and what to expect.