First off, thanks to The Three Moderators for considering my contribution to this blog, and to all the readers who lurk and participate in the group discussions. I’ve been following The Literary Lab for quite some time, and it’s really starting to take off. You done good, Davin ;-)
Now to the point: Genre Fiction – Suspense / Thrillers.
Suspense novels and thrillers are similar to mysteries. The main difference is that in a mystery, the reader is trying to figure out whodunit, but in the suspense novel you may know all along whodunit and how. The protagonist in a suspense / thriller faces dire consequences should they fail against the antagonist. The antagonist may be a person, but it may also be an abstract such as time. There are many sub-genres for Suspense / Thriller. Medical, legal, financial, spy, supernatural…the list goes on and on.
These novels are your quintessential page-turners. They are fast paced, and while they do not need to be devoid of rich descriptions of people and places, they typically contain more action and dialogue than lyrical prose. It’s all a part of the pacing. In a thriller, you don’t stop to sniff the daisies- they will either poison you, or you’ll get shot because you stopped moving.
The plot is the key driver, and the challenge to the writer is to know what to reveal and when. Tell too much at the beginning, and you kill the suspense. Wait too long, and you fail to generate suspense in the first place. Too much non-stop action and the reader gets exhausted. Balance is paramount.
There are several things to be cautious of when writing in this genre:
Unappealing characters. If your protagonist is in a race against time to save his life, you’d better be sure your readers want him to live!
Slow Pace. This story needs to move. White knuckles gripping the edge of the book. Page corners torn because they were turned with such fervor. Eyes red because “one more chapter” turned into five more chapters and your readers were up to the wee hours of the night.
Dues Ex Machina. This is an ending where the protagonist is saved at the last minute by something that did not exist in the story beforehand. Don’t do it. Ever.
Predictability. This challenge is for the established author, who is on Medical Thriller Number Seven and is really just retelling Number Four, but with the Protagonist from Number Three and the Antagonist from Number Five. Oh, and the twist is from Number Two. The reader has it all pegged at the end of Chapter One.
Flat writing. This is a pitfall for all writers, really. Genre fiction should be written as well as literary fiction. Symbolism, high concept themes, and characters with layers can all be incorporated into a good thriller.
Harlan Coben- TELL NO ONE, GONE FOR GOOD are two of my favorites. His plotting it top notch, and his endings have plausible twists.
John Grisham- THE RAINMAKER. Witty prose, endearing characters, and a very realistic story.
Tom Clancy- WITHOUT REMORSE. This is a tale of vengeance that Dirty Harry would be proud of. You want the bad guys to get it. And do they ever.