13 March 2009

Elements of a Thriller

Not an exhaustive list, I'm sure. This is just some of the things that I've discovered from reading them and that I've heard from people who know a lot more than I do.
  • The hero is usually reluctant, pushed into his role, and eventually accepting.

  • Something significant is at stake or the risk from failing is staggering.

  • There is a time restraint.

  • There is uncertainty regarding who is a friend or foe, a sense of betrayal (either real or imagined), and an isolation of the hero from everything he was counting on for success.

  • There seems to be a potential for reward and a threat of punishement both; the hero may have to sacrifice the reward in order to succeed; i.e. give the glory to someone else, save a friend rather than the reward, or keep his involvement a secret.

It seems to help if the hero is plagued by self-doubt and seems unable to complete the task. It also helps if the stakes increase at each milestone. The character of the hero and other players must be uncovered in layers, however, unlike the tragic hero,t he fatal flaw in the hero must ultimately save him rather than destroy him. The story of Oedipus Rex may have thrilling elements, but you can't really cheer for Oedipus because no matter how noble he tries to be, he is creating his own doom. He is never truly redeemed.

Here are some entertaining resources on writing thrillers by people who are a lot smarter than I am.