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How To Write Thrillers: Ten Tips

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In the second of our four part 'Teach Yourself To Write' series, Matthew Branton, an author and writing coach, explains how to write thrillers like the best of them...

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Matthew Branton

TIP 1 - Learn From The Masters
Any reputed writer's work will show literary techniques and perspectives in action - I think early Stephen King is as interesting as early Salman Rushdie, for example, novelists working at the same time but in completely different markets.

2 - Choose Your Narrator
Think creatively about the choices you have, even if you can hear a clear voice from the start.

3 - Think In Terms Of Dramatic Acts
Even if you only have a few bits of scenes, locating them in a dramatic structure will help you see what your action needs.

4- Show Don't Tell
In action as in prose: readers want story, not a narrative report.

5 - Go To The End Of The Line
Understanding 'core-value progressions' - that is the coherence of the choices authors make in progressing story and character - will help you push your thriller all the way.

6 - Keep It Simple
One 'theme', one 'issue', one 'controlling idea' alone. A betrayal story which tries to incorporate a sub-plot about injustice spreads itself too thinly.

7 - Don't Hang About
Get in late to scenes, get out as early as you can: pace is critical in thrillers.

8 - Plan Ahead
Twists come from solid planning - from creating options to explore - not from lightning-bolt inspiration.

9 - Work On The Dialogue
If your dialogue sounds like dialogue, read some Elmore Leonard classics.

10 - Think About The Fight
Thrillers are at heart about a cornered warrior and a hellfire dragon. The question is not will the hero win - this is an actual dragon - but how valiant the fight.

Write a Bestselling Thriller is out on 30 November on Hodder & Stoughton, out 30 November. Join the conversation at: @TYCWriting.

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