For those who don’t know, I’m a book critic for the site PopSyndicate.com. Lately, I’ve received many lackluster novels labeled “thrillers.” But the only thing thrilling about them is putting them down.
Some fall prey to omniscient POV, which can, without proper handling, distance readers emotionally from characters. (If we can’t get inside their heads, why would we care about them – or the mystery they are trying to solve?) Others tell the reader exactly whodunit, without any deviation. (No red herrings? What kind of thriller is that?!?!) Others still just sit on the page. Couldn’t tell you exactly why the stories weren’t thrilling; they just weren’t.
I blogged about this on the NING.com network for crime writers. It’s frustrating for me both as a reader and as a writer. From a reader’s perspective, I’m disappointed that I spent good money on a book that was worth a mill. From a writer’s standpoint, I want to know why the editors allowed the book through as-is. After all, writers are close to their projects – so close that it’s difficult to sometimes see the bad within the good. They need outside eyeballs on their work to root out the baddies and make a book sing. (Maybe that’s a little naive for publishing, I don’t know. I’m used to newspaper editors who force you to stay until one minute before press time to make that story a headliner. It should not be any different when it comes to books.)
If you write thrillers, here’s what you should do. Watch some Twilight Zones. (Rod Sterling ones, not the “new” series that came out a few years ago. Tales from the Crypt, One Step Beyond, Hitchcock films… shows like these are great examples of suspense. Typically, you don’t get the zinger – whodunit for thriller writers – until the last 30 seconds of the show. Hitchcock has an amazing knack for creating tension and intensity by doling out a miniscule bit of information at a time. Music and camera angles add to this. As you write, pick some music to get into the scene. Picture it in your mind like a movie, then write it, detail by detail.
Some of the scariest shows (at least for me) never showed a thing. No blood. No guts. No gore. Freddy Krueger had nothing on these guys. The movies – like the somewhat recent Blair Witch Project – are an attack on the psyche. What better way to get readers of your thrillers to start biting their nails in suspense? Assault their brains with just enough information to freak them out. Then, switch direction and punch them in the gut with something new.
Dean Koontz has a great podcast on this topic. (His Web site totally rocks.) His book, Intensity, is a prominent feature in James Scott Bell’s book, Write Great Fiction: Plot and Structure. Bell, who writes suspenseful novels, has a fabulous page for writers.
And be bold. When you choose a POV for your novel, don’t hesitate to play around a little bit. See what POV works for your novel. You might be surprised. And find someone you can trust to review your manuscript with honest eyes.0