Friday, March 23, 2007


79,000 words

One thing I love about thrillers (and part of why I naturally gravitate to writing them) is that sense of doom, not impending, but hurtling at the protagonist at 100mph (or 180kph, since we're metric here...).

A thriller will have a built-in deadline to disaster, be it large (doomsday device, et al) or small (pay the ransom or we kill your child). The hero must struggle to get on top of a situation in which she's initially out of control and relatively powerless. The later the hero gets the upper hand, and the more her eventual victory looks in doubt, the more exciting the story.

A powerful way to keep the hero off-balance is to take that deadline and shorten it. Drastically. Move that countdown timer from 10 minutes to 10 seconds. Reveal that the kidnappers won't wait for the ransom to kill the kid; they're going to do it tonight.

One thing about my jump-in-and-write style is that in this first pass I'm often as surprised as anyone by the twists and turns in the story.

I should have seen the shortened deadline coming, but I didn't. And I didn't see how the stakes would suddenly ratchet up in so many ways as it shortened.

Sarah was supposed to have two or three days to get on top of her situation. Now she's got one night. She's going to need every resource she has to beat this. Now my heart's beating as a reader, but it's freaking jackhammering as the writer. I can't let her down, but I don't see how I can do it.

I'm going to need every resource *I* have to beat this. :-)


Charles Gramlich said...

Great point. Let the deadline be short to begin with, then shorten it some more. Very effective.

Susan Miller said...

All I ever think when I read your postings about this writing is "WOW". There are blogs that I go to and watch as someone walks me through their pain, torture, joy, or different aspects of their life depending on the day. This is a pure writing experience, and I am grateful for the ride.

Thanks, Steve.

cs harris said...

Good description of the appeal of a thriller. And I love the idea of shortening the deadline. Talk about upping the stakes!