Writing To Thrill

It’s almost Halloween! I love holidays and getting in the ‘spirit.’ The Guardian featured an article this morning by author Matt Ralphs about writing tips for thriller/horror novels. It was just so fittingly perfect that I needed to share it on my own blog in order to deck it out with some holiday cheer. Writing to thrill isn’t easy. If you do it wrong then all you are left with is a rather boring and uneventful story. If your readers aren’t shaking in their own shoes (or socks) then you are most certainly doing it wrong. People read thrillers to be scared, for the action, for the suspense. A disconnected story line, minimal suspense, and no lingering questions just won’t cut it. Here are a few tips to ensure that your next thriller won’t be your last (insert evil laugh here).


  1. Fear is diverse.

If you really want a unique story, search for a unique fear. The “go-to” fears include death, pain, and the paranormal. These subjects can easily be overdone and even bordering on cliche. There are so many other phobias and outlandish fears out there, why stick with the mundane? Separate yourself from the pack from the very first sentence.

2. Write from experience.

The key to writing to thrill is authenticity. People need to believe what is happening in order to be scared. If you write from experience and recall every thought and feeling you had at that moment, your writing becomes most genuine. You aren’t imagining what is happening, you know what is happening.Remember a time that you were scared or spooked out and write with that emotion.

3. Understand the science behind it.

Fear is an interesting thing and does some interesting things to our bodies. Do some research on fear before you sit down to write. Having real life knowledge of what it chemically does to our bodies will allow you to write a more effective and believable story.

4. Learn from others. 

Do your homework. Read other thriller and horror novels and find out what makes them so scary. What made you jump a little in your chair and why? You can also venture outside books to other resources like movies. Seeing the fear played out might help you notice something that hasn’t occurred to you before.

5. Tailor your space to fit your writing.

Being scared is all about the senses. Write your stories in a place that gives off a spooky ambiance. Feeling the scene for yourself will help you portray it better to your readers. Write a story about a location you can easily get to. Dim the lights when writing. Or listen to some creepy music.

6. Know ‘the killer combination.’

Character, peril, and location all work together to create scary scenes. Create at least one likable character, transport your reader into the middle of the action, and picking an obscure location builds the most suspense and yields the most investment from readers.

7. Tension is key.

Don’t lay all your cards on the table from the very beginning. Hint at things, but keep them hidden. Readers like to have an idea of what is going to happen, not when it’s going to happen. Keep them on their toes till the very end.

8. Make sure the tension pays off.

Don’t build up suspense to nothing, readers will surely be disappointed. If you work so hard to keep the tension brewing, make sure to give the readers what they want. A failed end will result in a failed book.

9. Look to history for ideas. 

History is filled with spooky stories and unexplained events. Sink your teeth into history and soak up the inspiration. You don’t need to write a historical thriller in order to seek ideas from the past.

10. Let the reader do most of the work.

Our imaginations are crazy things. We don’t need too much detail in order to start conjuring up the craziest scenes in our own heads. Be subtle and don’t give too much away. The readers will scare themselves.

Write on.

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