Okay, so today I want to talk about what makes a good novel, especially a thriller novel.
To begin with, it would help to define what a thriller novel can be.
A Thriller is a moral tale. Yep, you heard me right, a moral tale. Despite the negativity that is often applied to such a term, a moral tale is not a bad thing. The moral does not have to beat you over the head like the last 15 minutes of Happy Feet. It can be far more subtle than that. A good morality story teaches you about morals without you even being aware of it at the time. Let me give you an example. Who here hasn’t read a Harry Potter book? Okay, so most everyone has. Think about it for a minute. All the Harry Potter books urge people to follow in Harry’s (and Hermione’s and Ron’s and Dumbledore’s) footsteps by standing up for what is right and good. Yes, it is a morality tale. And a damn fine one at that. Did you even realize you were getting a message when you read it? I didn’t.
Okay, so a thriller is a moral tale. Great. Now, what kind of books can be thrillers? Well mysteries, horrors, paranormals, science fiction, fantasy. All of these can be counted under the thriller definition I am using here. The most important thing is that it is a moral tale, that’s it.
Now, on to the pillars. (I am using the term pillars because it is the term James N. Frey uses in his How to Write a Damn Good…. series. I recommend How to Write a Damn Good Thriller to anyone writing in a genre listed above.
All of these Pillars help to make a cohesive novel that is interesting and even fun to read. Remember you don’t want to hit people over the head with morality though. This is not Happy Feet. (Yes, i keep using that example, mainly because I loved the movie until the last 15 minutes, where it irritated me, a proud conservationist. if you haven’t seen it, I suggest you just skip over the end when it gets really preachy.)
Okay, without anymore ado, The Pillars.
1.) High Stakes– This is important, though the definition of high stakes can differ. It does not have to be the life and death of all humanity to be high stakes (though it can be). It could just as easily be the survival of a child, the savior of an immortal soul, or something else that is important. In all this is a pretty straight forward pillar. Don’t think about it too hard.
2.) Unity of Opposites– Okay, this sounds complex. It isn’t. Of course, neither is novel-writing. Hard, definitely, but not complex. Unity of opposites, with everything else stripped away, is basically the reason your hero can’t just pick up and leave. That’s it. What is keeping your hero from saying, “The heck with it!” and getting out of Dodge? it can be morality, or even physically being stuck somewhere. Just make sure the reader isn’t asking why he doesn’t just leave.
3.) Seemingly Impossible Odds– The hero may not make it against the odds, and definitely for a period of time the reader doesn’t think he can. Usually, however, the hero does eventually overcome the odds. Usually, not always.
4.) Moral Struggle– Easy enough. There is a good side and a bad side. Your hero is on the good side. Think Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. The movies would have been completely different if told from Darth Vader’s point of view. (Notice I said Vader, not Anakin).
5.) Ticking Clock– There has to be a deadline for the hero’s actions. This is über important for the thriller to have a sense of urgency. I mean if there is no deadline, there is no reason for the hero to try to solve the problem and defeat the villain.
6.) Menace– Simply put, your hero and other sympathetic characters are in danger through most of the story.
7.) Thriller-type Characters– Your characters, hero and villain alike, must be clever and resourceful as well as larger than life. Think about Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker again. Although both are believable characters (in the Star Wars universe) they are both bigger than life, and incredibly clever. Same with Harry Potter and Lord Voldemort (yes, I said his name).
Incorporating all these Pillars into your novel will make it stronger and a far more interesting read. If you leave even one out, you run the risk of losing your readers, and we all know that is not a good thing.
Remember a thriller can be just about any type of novel, not just a murder-mystery or a zombie book.
Good luck, good writing!