Writing thrillers can be difficult. Well, writing in general can be difficult. Any author today can tell you they’ve suffered the dreaded blinking cursor syndrome where that little black bar is more intimidating than a job interview. Then, there’s the dreaded writer’s block. A lovely time when no words come no matter how hard you bang your fists on your desk.
However, there is one thing many authors (especially those new to the circuit) ask their more seasoned – and it still hits them too – counterparts and mentors. How in the world do you come up with those ideas?
When asked this question, you will hear multiple, and I do mean multiple different answers on how they find them.
So, a good question to ask might not be where they get their ideas, but rather what inspires them to create the worlds they do.
For thriller, crime, horror and mystery writers, the answer often comes from the same thing: real life. Heck, even Stephen King is quoted in saying the best monsters come from very real fears.
Pro Tip: To write a good mystery/thriller, you just have to take the worst sins in mankind and twist them hard enough it creates a page turner.
What does this mean?
Well, a good example of this can be found in the popular book, Pet Sematary. While not a thriller, Stephen King combined a very real fear (ie death) with a strong parental element (protection) and a sense of what happens when it fails.
Again, Stephen King is the master of the supernatural thriller and horror who has tapped into the power of real fears and the effects it can have on the human psyche.
Another powerful name, James Patterson, the Stephen King of the non-supernatural thriller is the perfect example of drawing on real concerns every day people are terrified of experiencing.
In a recent release (August 2020) titled The Midwife Murders, a psychological thriller, the main character is forced with one of the worst sins of mankind: murder. Nothing says “monster” like one human being having the will to take the life of another, yet it happens every day.
The popular legal thriller, Michael Clayton, draws upon the power of corporate corruption and what large names will do to protect their darkest secrets. The main character (played by George Clooney) has to switch his role from being a bag man once someone brutally murders his friend when Arthur tries to reveal a dangerous secret kept under wraps by corruption.
Two of humanity’s darkest demons right there in the same story. Both are very real and have brought down entire countries throughout history.
Well, you must be thinking, this is all well and good, but where do I go to find these stories and what are some common motives I can use in my thriller?
- The internet: There are news sites all over the internet for you to find your next thrilling, well, thriller.
- Newspapers: Just as good as google, except you can write on them and take notes
- The News: All you have to do is turn on your television and get all the fodder you need
- Social media
- Personal experience
- Friend Experience
The source list goes and on and on. The best part, it’s unlimited! You can always find fresh ideas to either use one or multiple! Add your own little twist for massive impact.
- Corporate corruption
- Legal corruption
- Money forgery
And again, these are just a very beginning. There are many more.
So, now you’ve got the sources, an idea is blooming in your head. The next question you might ask your author/mentor is, how do I use them?
Well, I’ve got you covered.
Let’s say you got into Google and selected revenge and money forgery for your main elements in your thriller. Throw in kidnapping for extra measure and you can come up with a plethora of ideas.
As a popular example of how this works, let’s look at a few shows the public adores.
Let’s say your main character is a chemistry teacher who discovers he has cancer. One day he gets dragged into the world of creating methamphetamine’s and finds himself on the wrong side of the law.
Friends, in a few sentences, I’ve just described the masterpiece that is Breaking Bad. All of these things are very real fears and motives for a thriller: corruption, kidnapping, and narcotics.
Another popular example:
A LAPD detective gets called to the scene of a brutal murder only to meet up with a charismatic billionaire who turns out to be the devil.
And voila, you have the formula for the popular Netflix supernatural thriller/mystery, Lucifer. Mystery and supernatural mystery fans love the twist on this police procedural that still incorporates something like you see on Law & Order.
See what I meant about twisting it into something that creates a page turner? Adding in the devil just made a police procedural into something else fans can’t get enough of.
It all boils down to this: don’t ask where someone gets their ideas. Ask yourself, “where can’t I find them?” There is literally no place you can’t find to spark that creative flow if you allow yourself to step back and really look at the world.