“The protagonist receives a bloodied note by the broken mirror and instantly realizes that the teen has been kidnapped. The clock is ticking. He has to find the girl before the worst happens. He tries to reach for the front door, but someone has already locked it outside. And then the car’s engine suddenly explodes. He could also smell smoke from the kitchen. It is time to escape before the house burns down. He turns around and comes face-to-face with a gun” – Thrillers are electric reads. They are jam-packed with paced tension, plot twists, suspense, history & mystery. And if you are here, you probably want to know how to write a bestselling thriller book.
In this blog, we will discuss the difference between thriller and mystery or suspense, the elements of a thriller, how to write a thriller book, tips for writing a gripping thriller, and how to publish a fiction thriller.
What is a Thriller?
Thriller is one of the most popular, exciting, and dynamic book publishing genres. They are fast-paced stories filled with suspense, conflict, tension, unexpected plot twists, and high stakes.
Fiction thrillers often include a protagonist, antagonist, victim, plot twists, and page-turning tensions.
Their primary goal is to induce fear, anxiety, excitement, suspense, and exhilaration. Book publishing companies and bookstores often group this genre with suspense or mystery as they share several common elements.
However, there are too many subtle differences that make thrillers unique from mystery books. As a self-publishing author, you must know these differences to categorize your book under the right genre.
What is the Difference Between a Thriller Fiction and Suspense or Mystery Fiction?
Let us give you an example of mystery: In the book ‘The Vampire Diaries,’ there are several elements of mystery, such as how Stefan and Damon turn into Vampires. Why do they come to Mystic Falls? Why does Bonnie get strange visions? Who is the hybrid? Who has the cure?
- In a mystery book, the suspense, surprise, or tension break at some point. Mystery answers questions in a surprising manner.
On the other hand (going back to the beginning of the blog), thrillers need more visceral action as they endanger the characters in the book, bring more plot twists, and are more fast-paced, keeping the readers on the edge of their seats.
- In a mystery, the plot is driven by the protagonist, like Elena discovering the secret behind Damon’s story through a journal.
In a thriller, the plot or event is driven by elements beyond the protagonist’s control, like the terrorists holding the staff in captivation and the protagonist having only an hour to fulfill their demands before they kill one of the captives.
- Perhaps, more crucially, in mystery or suspense, the whole point is figuring out the reason or culprit, while in a thriller book, it is everything about saving the day.
That said, your book can be a combination of thriller and mystery. But you might still have to categorize for self-publishing based on the element that’s more profound – thrill or suspense.
What are the Sub-Genres of Thriller Books?
Thriller is a broad term in the book publishing sector. It includes various sub-genres, which not only guide you in writing your book but also help niche readers find you.
For more precise information, tips, and steps, read our blog “How to find the genre of your book.”
Popular subgenres of thriller books include the following:
- Supernatural thriller
- Mystery thriller
- Action/Adventure thriller
- Crime thriller
- Psychological thriller
- Political thriller
- Legal thriller
- Espionage or Spy thriller
- Domestic thriller
However, sub-genres often overlap. For example, you may find a book that is a supernatural thriller but laced with mystery and action.
Tip: Whichever sub-genre you choose, we suggest reading a couple of bestsellers from the category to get an idea of the common aspects that are present in them.
Now that you know what is a thriller book, and how to write a thriller book, its USP, and its characteristics, let’s see the six good elements of a thriller book.
What are the Six Elements of a Bestselling Thriller Book
Whether an experienced author or a novice writer, if you are self-publishing a thriller for the first time, add the following elements to your thriller book to make it a gripping novel.
Clear and Imposing Threat
If you are writing a supernatural thriller, the threat might be an alien or werewolf. If you are working on a crime thriller, the danger might be anything from the next neighbor to the cop. If you self-publish a psychological thriller, the young serial killer could be the threat. You get the idea.
Questions that Drive the Plot
The Big Question in a thriller plot actually drives the entire show. While reading the book, questions like how things happened, why, and by whom should frizzle at the back of the reader’s mind throughout. They should form their own answers and keep wondering.
Unexpected Plot Twists
Good thriller books must contain a lot of twists and cliffhangers. You have to throw unpredictable twists, blocks, loopholes, or danger in your characters to make it even more thrilling.
If you want your readers to bite their nails while reading your book, throw problem after problem in your protagonist’s path, with dire consequences should they not solve or avoid the problem. For instance, if the lead actor cannot find the ticking bomb in 15 minutes, the hospital will blow up.
Would the girl escape the coffin she has been buried alive? You have to build tension throughout your story. Add cliffhangers at the end of each chapter to create suspense, and don’t forget to change the pace at regular intervals.
Non-stop actions will make your story sound unrealistic. On the other hand, significantly less action or very few plot twists will bore your readers. While the suspense, thrill, and intrigue need to be present all the time, you can pace the action scenes at interesting turns of events.
And for the rest of the time, add exciting dialogues, show characters solving the pieces of puzzles, or introduce a new theory, dimension, or revelation about the story.
Tips on Writing Bestselling Thrillers Books
While there is no one full-proof way of how to write a thriller book, following writing tips will ensure your novel is on the right path and your readers stay hooked.
Use the GMC Approach to Develop Killer Plot Ideas
GMC refers to Goal, Motivation, and Conflict. Tension and suspense arise from the antagonist’s goal, desires, or actions.
The protagonist’s motivation naturally stems when something is at stake, such as their lover’s life, people of the state, or a collapsing world.
Emotional, internal, or external conflicts drive the actions of the characters.
Hence, ensure your story plot emerges from the characters’ goals, desires, and motivations.
Start Your Story with An Action Scene
The opening scene is the most crucial moment in any book, particularly thrillers. Avoid adding too much information or too many revealing details.
You must start with something exciting that sets the mood of the entire book or makes the protagonist aware of the danger.
For instance, in the very first chapter of Girl in Room 105 by Chetan Bhagat, the drunk protagonist goes to meet his ex-girlfriend in the middle of the night through a window only to find her murdered – we don’t know who did it or why. The cops start suspecting him because he is the only one present in the room. At this point, the readers have no information about the background story before the chase starts.
Create Interesting Stakes
High stakes are the soul of thriller books. And they change based on the subgenre you choose. The central conflict of your book should revolve around a serious issue with high stakes.
For instance, for a supernatural thriller, the world ending in an apocalypse could be the worst consequence. In a domestic thriller, the stakes might be more character specific, such as a kidnapped child.
Whatever the high stake is, make it personal for the lead characters.
Make the Protagonist Suffer
A thriller should be thrilling… and not easy. It should make the protagonist suffer and leave them in agony.
Your readers should be as frustrated as the characters for having missed the obvious in front of them. To make your book nail-biting and teeth-gritting, put your protagonists through dangerous situations.
For instance, have your characters lose their house, break their leg, miss the culprit at the nick of time, and lose the evidence.
The bigger the problem, the more gratifying it will be to watch the characters solve it. This will also make the readers respect and like the protagonist.
Bring on an Epic Climax and Give a Satisfying Ending
The climax is everything in a thriller book. Make sure you take days to write and polish it, so it really creates a beautiful effect on the readers.
Many famous authors write the climax first and build the plot around it. If it sounds helpful, you can try this method.
And finally, the ending should be solid, even if it’s not happy. Remember that your book’s ending should fit the kind of story you have been writing.
If you have planned to publish a series of books, you might want to leave the ending open with a cliffhanger or plot twist and let your readers speculate about your next book’s plot.
How to write and Publish a Thriller Book
While writing a gripping thriller is quite a challenge, self-publishing a book in the fiction category is the same, regardless of the genre or the platform you choose.
We have created an exclusive blog for thriller authors on how to self-publish a book at Writat. You can find it here.
We have also mentioned a couple of other important resources on self-publishing, such as how to write speculative fiction, social media marketing for authors in 2023, how to find a ghostwriter for your book, how to edit a book like a pro, and how to make money by self-publishing a book.
Click on each title to read the article.
Hope this helps you. All the best for your next project.