Thursday, January 13, 2011

Writing the perfect thriller

What is it makes the perfect thriller? Is it the suspense? The violence? The unpredictability of the plot? The character development? Or a combination of all of the above?
I have to admit I don’t know the exact formula, but it seems to vary book by book. Even authors like James Patterson or Stephen King can have their hits and misses, so it’s probably a good thing they’re so prolific, right?

I read a lot of thrillers. I’m in the midst of a Steve Berry novel and it’s quite engrossing. He puts a lot of detail into his stories…a LOT of detail. Maybe a little too much detail. Tom Clancy is usually guilty of that. If I want to know how to operate a nuclear submarine I’ll read the manual. Some people like that, though. To me it bogs down the story. If the reader doesn’t really need to know, why tell them? I only put in my stories what readers need to know in order to keep the story flowing. Maybe that’s why I’m not a bestselling author yet, I don’t know.

Brad Thor is a guy who only tells you what you need to know to keep the story moving, yet I still come away knowing more than I did when I started, which is a good thing. Same with James Rollins, Steve Alten, Nelson DeMille, Lee Child and most of my other favorite writers. What I like about James Patterson are his very short chapters. I tend to write my stories the same way. I like a fast-paced novel with short chapters. I could attribute that to my ADD, but I think telling a story is more important than giving geography lessons or teaching you how to build your own pyramid.

One thing I love about Nelson DeMille are his characters. I can really get inside their heads, probably because he writes a lot in first person, as does James Patterson. I write in third person, but I still get inside my characters’ heads. I like to show their flaws so readers can identify with them and say, “Hey, they’re imperfect, just like me!” The super-agent who speaks five different languages or the master criminal with the degree from MIT gets a little old after a while. That’s why I usually make the characters in my books regular people in extraordinary circumstances, i.e. the journalist and his wife, the park ranger up against an evil being at war with his own humanity. That’s why people like my characters—they’re real people, not super-humans.

Some authors overdo the blood and gore. I don’t need to see some guy get dissected alive to know the bad guy is pissed. Get on with the story. I don’t want to have to hold a barf bag while I’m reading or have to go for counseling later. Some people get a little too much into the violence. Maybe their editor told them to add more, who knows? Sometimes Stephen King is guilty of that, or Dean Koontz. But they are both master storytellers, so I’m not going to presume to lecture them. I almost always love the characters in their books and the plots are first rate.

My next book has lots of suspense, supernatural overtones, intriguing characters, a compelling plot and great settings. There is also some violence, sex, language and other things that some may find questionable, but it all adds to the story—it’s not just thrown in willy-nilly. I think my current book is the same way. Basically, I write the types of things that I like to read. Isn’t that the way it should be?

For more of my writing and to order my latest supernatural thriller, DIABLERO, go to: Toby Tate Stories

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