Thursday, 11 October 2012

How to make a thriller really matter - raising the stakes!

All the steps in creating a plausible plot in thriller writing, I believe,  must come from the premise of an antagonist (villain) wanting one thing and a protagonist (hero) wanting the direct opposite. This creates the basic conflict that will drive the story to its final climactic end. Layered in and around this conflict may be more subplots and story lines that enrich the central story. In other words the story is multi-layered and thick with intrigue and suspense. It is this potent mixture of forces set one against the other that is the engine behind any thriller story.
The stakes in a thriller must also be very high so menace and threat are around every corner. Of course, the greatest threat (and the one many successful stories have thrived on) is world domination or a catastrophic event that threatens the entire world. For example ‘War of the Worlds’, ‘Alien’ and various James Bond’s epics. Plotting a novel like this may start fairly worryingly but then the plot should rise to epic proportions and stakes go higher and higher as more danger is piled on and more people realise the gravity of the situation and a race against time.
But it doesn’t always have to be about threats to the entire world - it may simply be threats to a main character’s nearest and dearest! And, in my opinion, the best way to raise the stakes is for the reader to strongly identify with the characters in peril and thereby worry for their safety. So the plot cannot be all about action and suspense - character development and engendering empathy is integral to the plot too. Put together it should make for one heck of a thriller…
Worry ought to be a key element in a thriller, do you agree?


  1. These are insightful hints. I have the potentials of a thriller waiting in the wings so I will make sure it has these elements as I continue. Could be fun! :)

  2. I have a thing against the word worry. Concern/empathy for the hero would be my choice. But you're right, without that tension where would the thrill be? :)

  3. I hope you don't mind if I print this to add to my reference notes. Even though I'm not writing a thriller, I realize my stakes aren't high enough for my protaganist in my MG novel. Thanks.

  4. My marriage might make a good thriller. It consisted of a lot of worry and antagonism.

    Janie Junebug

  5. I agree that worry, which creates tension, is a key element.

    Janie, that is too funny.

  6. It's a great way to create tension. And I love it when a story keeps raising the stakes!