Writing a Psychological Thriller

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A psychological thriller differs from a typical thriller. Unlike a thriller, the danger in a psychological thriller resides more on a mental level and less on a physical one. Also, the main characters tend to have unstable or delusional mental states. Combined, these elements provide the reader with a dissolving sense of reality.

These days, pick up any book with the word, girl in the title and you realize that the psychological thriller market is flooded. Want to stand out in a crowd of thrilling girls? The following tips will help you stand apart from the crowded psychological thriller market.

1. What’s your premise?

The best way to start writing anything is to ask What if? In the case of a psychological thriller, the stakes need to be high. What is the worst that could happen to an already bad situation? This is not the time to be kind to your characters. In order for you to be successful, consider a premise in which the plot cocktail adds up to a desperate situation. Add a healthy dose of dissatisfaction combined with disillusionment, and a whopper of a secret and you’re on to something.

2. Flawed characters for the win

Your main character should be firmly rooted in a gray area. Is she good? Is she bad? Remember–unstable is the word of the day. But how did she become unstable? This information should be juicy. Provide her with a bad childhood, a life-altering mistake made in adolescence, trauma, mental illness, or a dark secret. All of these elements provide many mucky layers, all worth exploring.

3. Play around with POV

This should be carefully considered in terms of emotional impact and for the revelation of key  information. First person POV brings the reader in close to the intricacies of the character’s mental state which can be fun if the character has a false sense of reality. By proxy, your reader can easily be mislead. On the other hand, third person puts your reader at a distance which has its uses if you’re trying to withhold information. Deep POV is something worth exploring because it allows you, the writer, to reveal thoughts and feelings in an upfront and personal way while still hovering above the events as they unfold. For more information on deep POV, click here.

4. Plan for a twisted bumpy ride

A good psychological thriller has more twists and turns than a bowl full of worms. Therefore, you need to plan, aka outline, your plot and subplots far in advance. Think like a magician and concentrate on misdirection by building in twists and reveals, planting red herrings, and keeping your reader in a constant state of confusion.

5. An opener that grabs

People consume thrillers and will move on in a heartbeat if you don’t grab them from the first few pages. Therefore, focus your attention on an amazing opening. You want to hook your readers with conflict and tension right away. Consider jumping right into an action sequence and catch the reader up with backstory later. The beginning is no place for a long-winded monologue.

6. Spooky settings

Consider the setting as an additional character when you write a psychological thriller. Just like your plot and main character(s), it should have an unsettling vibe. Here are a few examples to consider: the edge of an ancient forest, an abandoned farm, a historic village with a dark past, a run-down factory district. All these places have an element of uncertainty and danger and will further add to the overall instability of your characters. Most importantly, a good setting will set your reader on edge.


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About Author

Heather Rigney is a fiction writer, blogger, journalist, and art teacher based in Rhode Island. Author of The Merrow Trilogy--a dark, historical fantasy novel that deals with homicidal mermaids, the colonial suppression of women, and a present-day alcoholic funeral director trying to make sense of it all. Her writing has been featured in Motif Magazine and Stone Crowns Magazine. By day she teaches art at an all-girls Quaker school and at night she tries to be creative while avoiding too many sweets. You can read more about Ms. Rigney on her website: www.heatherrigney.com

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