Give the people what they want! Readers of psych thrillers want to be creeped out and scared. They want those thrills, so don’t let them down: dose them up!
Turn up the tension. Obviously, your overall plot needs to be tense, but it also needs to escalate. Keep checking that throughout your novel the tension is always there, and always building. Steadily turn up the pressure on your lead character, until they’re in deep boiling water.
Keep your audience in… suspense! You want your readers to always be on the edge of their seats. Throughout the novel, you should have readers asking the same question: ‘oh my god, what happens next!’ Hold back and draw out your reveals. Add in plenty of cliff-hangers. Your reader should understand the danger, but your protagonist might not. You want them screaming instructions and warnings at your characters.
Make it snappy. Thrillers are fast paced reads. You want your reader powering through the story desperate to know what’s going to happen. You want it to be a page turner. Make sure it’s tight and racy.
Write characters your reader will care about. People are more invested in characters they care about. This doesn’t mean your characters have to be likeable and bland, but they must have redeeming features that an audience can empathise with. For example, Sabine Durrant’s anti-hero in Lie With Me is deeply flawed, but has enough charm and growing self-awareness to get you onside. A reader will feel the tension far more if they care what happens to your protagonist.
Do the twist. Don’t forget to add in twists. Lead your audience down one alley, only to reveal that all is not what it seems. Pull the rug out from underneath them. You want to make your reader gasp out loud. A good twist can make a book.
Have a killer concept. The most successful books tend to have a strong concept to them. For example, Ali Land’s Good Me Bad Me is the story of a teen who shops her serial killing mum to the police. Just what would that do to a young girl? Don’t you immediately want to read it now? Think about how to elevate your story. Ask yourself what makes it stand out? What makes it special?
Tell the story only you can. What can you bring that is distinctive to your writing? What life adventures, work experience, research, or insight have you got that will feed a brilliant story? Go ahead: put it on the page. And hang onto it for publicity. An interesting backstory is always fascinating.
Read the charts. Familiarise yourself with what’s in the top ten in the Psychological Thriller chart on Amazon. It’s good to know what is selling and what readers are enjoying right now. Don’t just think about the plot, think about the concepts, the titles and characters that appear in bestsellers. How do yours compare? Aim high!
Enjoy it. One of the best things about writing is how fun it is. You are literally making things up for a living. Plus, it’s great therapy. Everything is grist for the mill. Been cheated by a dodgy estate agent? Guess who’s going to get it in your next book! There’s a reason crime and psychological writers are so friendly; we’ve dealt with all our issues on the page. Happy writing.
Angela Clarke’s Watch Me (Avon, £7.99) is published on 12th January.