I started a new MasterClass yesterday, taught by Dan Brown. He’s a thriller writer that I’ve never read before, but he wrote The Da Vinci Code.
He has a set of three C-words that encapsulate what you need in a thriller.
1. Contract: You need a promise to your reader that at the end of the book, they will find out the big question that you pose throughout. Will Tom diffuse the bomb? Will Sandra find her love? Does Clarence find fame and happiness? First you need to pose the question, binding yourself to eventually giving the answer.
2. Crucible: You need to make it hard for your protagonist. You need to hold them in harm’s way, you can’t let them escape. You have to make the stakes high enough, make it personal enough, make it difficult enough that your protagonist can’t just leave or run – they have to stand and fight. They need to run the gauntlet. Face the fear and face the obstacle.
3. Clock: There needs to be a ticking clock in a thriller. With every passing second the stakes increase as we get close and close to… the Eiffel Tower exploding. There needs to be pressure from the clock, it becomes its own obstacle for the protagonist.
He has a bunch of other great stuff I’ve written down too. I’ll share another day.