What Thriller Writers Know



…and how you can use it to make your writing go from good to great. (Yeah, I stole that last bit. So what?)

I am obsessed with thrillers. It’s part of my “write short” sickness that many loathe but I require. I never read Proust and boast about it. Henry James makes my skin crawl, except the one about those two kids turning a screw.

Only a handful of the greatest of greats – Tolstoy, F. Scott, Marquez, Markham, Salter – keep me from yelling “oh, get on with it!” as I read.  These guys are so good that if they are trying to stun me with adjectives, clauses and descriptions that go nowhere, the writing is so great and surprising, I don’t mind. I refer you to Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Illych which contains the sad cold hearts of civilized humanity in one thin book. Or Marquez’s Memories of His Melancholy Whores which boils down the nature of love and lust in human beings to the thinnest of powerful reads.

Quite writing so much, everybody. Everything will read better: your emails, social media posts, notes to your lover, anything. Get to the point and do it with these simple tips:

  1. Noun, verb. This is the easiest to remember of all the writing short tips. He ran is a perfectly fine sentence. He ran around the rose bushes that Aunt Mae had planted all those years ago in the summer rain is not a that great of a sentence. Those rose bushes just take out the punch and slow a sentence about speed: He ran.
  2. Focus. Thriller writers fly low to the ground, adding detail only as                                     absolutely necessary to give the reader information about the plot. If the detail that an agent is terrified of snakes comes up, you can bet there will be a scene where snakes come into play. NOTHING IS WASTED.
  3. Cut adjectives and adverbs.  You can’t tell people anything; you need to show them. It’s the same in parenting, teaching, writing and leadership. You are the Supreme Leader of this Book. But don’t wear a weird jumpsuit and designer sunglasses when you type.
  4. Pick a detail like you are shopping for a diamond ring or a new car. One little word, a tiny flick of your typing wrist, can set a scene or character alive and indelibly imprinted into the mind of your reader. She walked into the room versus She walked into the room in an orange dress and stockings with a hole running up the leg. Feels like a different woman, doesn’t it? And you’ve only used 12 more words.
  5. Surprise. Surprise gets attention. Take the readers mind in one direction: They will anticipate a certain word, analogy, response, event, ending, whatever, and you give them something else. It is in that “something else” where your core message might lurk. The mind of the reader will be off balance and it’s a perfect moment to strike.


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Beth Wareham