Monday, May 16, 2011

Orchestrating the Thriller

Regardless of the chosen direction for a narrative, all works at their core are an amusement ride. An attraction that an audience wants to experience. A thrill.

Every piece contains three primary elements to compose the ride; suspense, tension and excitement. Infusing the elements into the piece in varying amounts can dictate the ultimate direction for the narrative and define its very genre.

A narrative begins with a solitary question. A singular hook that draws the audience in and drives the individuals in the piece forward. In a mystery it is often a crime scene and the question is 'why?' In a thriller it is often the same question, the same 'why?' However, it is also often accompanied by a consistent threat. A 'who's next?' that the audience continually asks. While for a romance or drama it is 'will I find love?' or 'will I ever break from this routine?' This question is imperative, it's the start of the ride.

Once the audience is on the ride it becomes a matter of alternating elements to maintain their interest. Like a roller coaster ride, the more unpredictable the journey the more the audience will be captivated.

In a thriller, the audience is given an event that captures their interest, an event that serves as a form of excitement. These events come in the form of close calls, near-death experiences and quite often fight or chase sequences. The excitement of these events is used sparingly like dramatic drops on a roller-coaster track.

All of the radical drops in a coaster would not matter were it not for the tension that comes from the rise to the top of each or the suspense of not knowing when the drop will occur. In a narrative, the characters are led from one event to the next under intense pressure. Whether it's an investigation or characters clamoring for survival, the pressure keeps the story moving.

While there are only certain elements that can be used to perpetuate the story, there are a multitude of ways that they can be implemented. The intervals between the elements can leave room for unpredictably or a rapid pace that leaves the audience breathless. The elements can even be hidden, revealed only at the last possible second to enhance their impact.

All narratives are inherently thrillers to a degree, the audience is driven forward by the events, the climbs and the drops of the ride. How do you keep the thrills coming?


K.M. Weiland said...

Thrillers are one of the few genres I've never quite been able to find myself at home in as a reader. But I couldn't agree more about the necessity of *every* narrative being a thriller. Every story has to be driven forward by the relentless question, "What's gonna happen next?!"

PW.Creighton said...

KM thanks for stopping by. That's the true heart of a piece isn't it? So long as the ride is in shape and keeps you wondering it will hold your rapt attention.

Jolina Petersheim said...

I'm so glad I read this post, Phillip! I just received some notes from a beta reader, and your "thriller" tips will help me tremendously!


PW.Creighton said...

Jolina, great to know I helped. Kudos!

Aron White said...

In my opinion, constructing a good plot or story is like designing a roller coaster. Nobody enjoys a flat ride. Make sure you start off with a good hill followed by a nice drop and keep an eye on your valley to hill ratio. It also helps to throw in a few twists, turns and upside down spins as needed :)

PW.Creighton said...

Aron, that's the idea and just like the Matterhorn at Disney you can keep everything hidden to the last possible minute for maximum impact too. Thanks for the comment!

Julie Musil said...

You're so right about stories being thrillers. Even though I don't read actual thrillers, I love a story that keeps me on the edge of my seat.

Anonymous said...

Terrific advice, thank you for this post. You have my revision gears grinding away. I love reading a good thriller. Writing one is a challenge!

PW.Creighton said...

Julie, that's the exact thinking. If you dull the twists, turns and pace it goes from a roller coaster to a coaster. Every story regardless of genre should make you keep going. Kudos for the comment!

Jessica, that's great to hear. Just treat the plot like breadcrumbs after you've mapped out the plot, take it from the protagonist's perspective. You only see what they see. If you think like that, then it's easier. Thanks for stopping by.

Jacqvern said...

Yes they are thrillers, boarding on the horror side, for authors at least :D. No, I'm kidding, at least to some point.

The "why" question is the most common and frequent question popping in a reader's mind.

However, the unfortunate event is when the "why" is negative. That "why" should be answered and solved by the author, before reaching the reader. Not an easy ride.

Great points. Thank you for the interesting post :)

PW.Creighton said...

Jacqvern, thank you for stopping by and the comment! Very true as the creator we should have it all mapped out but when we're in the narrative we should only see what the protagonist sees(or in some instances antagonist), limit the view of what's ahead and you keep the ride on the rails.

Amber said...

I have been given this advice to keep the story moving, and the audience engaged. Think of the worst thing that can happen to your protagonist and do it. Applying this theory seems to be successful in keeping the action, suspense, and tension running high, and the fun is in making it all come together at the end.

PW.Creighton said...

Amber, thanks for swinging by! Yeah, the fun I have is in twisting it and hiding those drops so the tension never lets up.

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