Every author has their own individual way of writing, but these are my own personal tips. An insight into how I craft my psychological thrillers.
I plot the novel right down to the final twist, and then plan even further by taking my basic plot and outlining each chapter in detail. Using this method, my last seven thrillers each took around one to two months to complete a first draft, mainly because I knew exactly what I was going to write each day – there were no blank spots leading to writer’s block. Of course there are still always a few kinks to work out along the way, but generally this works for me.
Each chapter must work hard to add to the story. If it doesn’t move the plot along then it doesn’t belong. I keep in mind my character arc and the overall theme of the story, treating each chapter like a mini-novel, with its own build up and climax.
End each chapter on a cliff hanger. It doesn’t have to be a massive ‘wow, what now?’ moment, but should evoke an unsettled feeling or leave a question to be answered, drawing the reader along so they always get that urge to read ‘just one more chapter’.
Create an interesting main character. I like a character to go on their own personal journey aside from what’s going on around them. So they start off at point A, but finish the novel – changed in some way – at point B. If the reader doesn’t care about the character and their goals, they won’t care about the story.
Realistic dialogue. There’s nothing worse than characters whose conversations sound as though they’re from the 1940s (unless your novel is set in the 1940s). Reading dialogue aloud is a useful way to get a feel for whether it sounds authentic or not.
Concentrate on suspense levels. Keep the tension rising with each chapter, backing the protagonist into terrible scenarios – physical or emotional – where the reader wonders what the hell they would do in that situation. I’ve had readers tell me they’ve yelled at my characters, telling them to do xyz to get out of their situation. Another reader wanted to climb into the pages and ‘beat the crap out of’ one of the bad guys.
Add to the atmosphere. As well as plot and dialogue, you can use symbolism, such as weather, scenery etc. to subtly add to the atmosphere of the story, layering the tension bit by bit until your reader has no fingernails left.
Get the balance right with twists. They can’t come completely out of nowhere. There’s a fine line between tipping the reader off too early, and not foreshadowing at all so that the twist feels too sudden and out of place, leaving the reader feeling annoyed or confused. Unless you’re going for a subtle build towards the revelation, the reader should discover the twist, drop their jaw in disbelief, think ‘of course’ and immediately reread the book to find the exact place in the narrative where the twist was originally hinted at. That’s a five-star review, right there.
Wrap up loose ends. This can be tricky. I don’t always like everything to be tied up with a bow. I enjoy a certain amount of ambiguity. But there are those readers who will want to know exactly what happened to every character in great detail. So, if I do leave the story on a question mark, I try to make it obvious that I’ve done this on purpose, and I haven’t simply forgotten to wrap up a plot point. After all, as much as I enjoy a hopeful ending, it’s also fun to occasionally leave the reader with a creeping sense of dread.
Enjoy the process. If my enthusiasm is waning, it could simply be mid-way blues, or perhaps it’s a sign that I need to perk up the plot. As long as I’m excited by my plot and obsessed by my characters, hopefully readers will feel the same way!
Of course, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. But, as long as most of my readers are happy, then so am I.
I hope these insights into my writing process have helped somewhat. I’m always learning and striving to improve, but these are my discoveries so far. Happy psych-thriller writing!
Shalini’s Amazon Page: https://www.amazon.com/Shalini-Boland/e/B004SGMOJM