Im Thrilled!

Miss Snark, Is the term thriller widely taken to mean plot-driven, as opposed to character-driven? If so, how should a character-driven thriller be described in a query letter? (Rip roaring, page turning, keep you glued to the couch compelling fiction?)Your blog is sweeeet, as my twelve-year-old would say.

You let a 12 year old read this blog??? You should be kidnapped, bound, thrown in a dark cellar and the fate of the free world should rest on your safe return. Which brings me to "thrillers".

Being adverse to reinventing the wheel I simply lifted part of the definition of a thriller from
these guys who thrill me to bits.

Thrillers are known for their pace, the force with which they hurtle the reader along. They are an obstacle race in which an objective is achieved at heroic cost. The objective can be personal (trying to save a spouse or a long-lost relative) or global (trying to avert a world war) and often is both.

So a thriller is always plot driven, always fast, always a page turner. To distinguish YOUR thriller from the pack, you might talk about character instead of plot. Use some imagination too. No honey haired blondes with exquisite figures, and no mad scientists with bushy hair. Alan Furst makes heroes out of ordinary people. Harlan Coben makes heroes out of guys who live in New Jersey. Talk about brave.


Kate S. said...

Carolyn Wheat does a great job of defining the thriller in her book How to Write Killer Fiction: the Funhouse of Mystery and the Roller Coaster of Suspense (Perseverance Press, 2003). She discusses the thriller as a subset of suspense which she describes as follows: "In contrast to the intellectual pleasure of the mystery, suspense is an emotional roller-coaster ride; if there is a puzzle element, it is decidedly secondary to the visceral experience. The supense hero, like the protagonist of a folk or fairy tale, faces tests that will elevate him to another level of maturity. The suspense hero, unlike most detectives who already have the skills to detect, must learn skills to cope with the new reality that has overtaken him. We readers want to see him becoming a hero through overcoming obstacles on the way to the showdown with evil. By the end of the novel, he has walked through the fire and has emerged as a different, larger person ... We read it, not to be entertained by a detective sifting through the clues of a past murder, but to grit our teeth and bite our nails as our hero dodges bullets and evades danger in the present."

Linda said...

That's one of my favorite books about writing. :)


Bernita said...

Thinking about Lee Child's wandering Walking Dude, Jack Reacher, and wondering how he would fit in this role division.

Another Author said...

Thriller's thrill. Readers should have a physical reaction when reading them. To me, the difference between thrillers and suspense is that thrillers tend to have higher stakes and shorter time period to solve the conflict. They have less time to explore character issues than suspense because the timeframe doesn't allow it, but some thriller writers--especially in a series format with the same characters returning--have been about to grow those characters over time.

But I also think that "thriller" is more a marketing device for suspense because, ultimately, they are the same thing. IMO

Linda Maye Adams said...

Thriller is a very misunderstood genre. I spent years working on a book project that didn't fit in with mystery and wouldn't have fit in with suspense either--it was thriller. It, like mystery and suspense, has its own unique genre traits. The stories are often very complex (at least the really good thrillers are) and detailed, though it's easy to overcomplicate the story. There may or may not be a villain--depends on the story. Nor is the necessarily a crime. Action, lots of action. And the stakes have got to be really high for all the terrible things that will happen in the story.

By the way, I was rather disappointed in Carolyn Wheat's book. It was great on mysteries and suspense, but I honestly wondered if she'd read any thrillers.

Brady Westwater said...

"... and the fate of the free world should depend on your safe return."

Actually, to more properly convey your inferred sentiment, that probably should read... "the fate of the free world should depend on your not having a safe return."

Otherwise, you are saying the entire free world should devote its resources to free a person from a cellar that you so correctly wish that person to be consigned to... forever.

Your 'umble editor

Miss Snark said...

implied (not inferred) sentiment.

Love and kisses,

Brady Westwater said...

The editing score is now 1 - 1.

The most embarrassing part, though, is my father used to correct me on same misusage.

Ah, hubris.