'Essays On the Art of Thriller Writing'

by Phineas Redux


Summary:— These essays will cover all genres; Murder, Thriller, Mystery, Police, Detective, dealing with the wide formula of a person, or several persons, involved in a plot where danger, mystery and sudden death are not far out of bounds.

Note:— However hard I try not to, Humour will elbow its way into my writing, so be warned.

Disclaimer:- This essay is copyright ©2018 to the author.


The only sure method, speaking generally, of murdering someone with impunity is to do the deed on paper, in the form of a mystery thriller. That way you reap all the glory of success fictionally, with none of the boring end results of failure in reality—i.e., capture, trial, and condign punishment.

There is also the added pleasure, if one may so put it, of being able to repeat your noble effort in annihilation as many times as you feel the need; with no uncomfortable repercussions,—except, perhaps, for bad reviews.

So, what constitutes a really good effort in Murder fiction? By this I also include all the main genres in the field, Murder, Thriller, Mystery, Detective, Police Procedural, et al; only making the point that there must be a body of some description in the tale. Whether the body be deceased primarily, i.e., before the opening of the story; or comes to that state of non-being during the course of the saga; or, indeed, may be referenced as attaining the necessary state after the conclusion of the romance, is entirely up to you, the perpetrator of the crime—I mean, author.

There is a species of novel abundantly available today under the heading-'Cosy Crimes'; by which is meant the act of murder, and the end result, are never shown in all their glorious wide-screen gore. The delicate reader, cosily seated in their armchair in front of their wood fire in their living-room on a cold snowy evening, with warm slippers to their feet and a glass of what hits the spot to hand, are never subjected to the ghastly awfulness of reality, but rather are given the Bowdlerised version. This is all very well in its way, but lacks that certain joie de vivre which adds spicy flavour to the real thriller or murder tale.

Of course, in this our modern unrestricted age, things can go the other way; i.e., tales so wrapped in sadism, sado-masochism, and, er, what does the B stand for, in BDSM? Oh yes, bondage!—well, that comes outside our boundary, so forget that aspect. Though, on mature thought, perhaps not; it having quite a lot to interest the budding murder story author, when it comes down to it. Yes, yes, we'll include jolly old Bondage, too—all grist to the mill, y'know. Where was I?—

There is another item the author will need to address before starting—whether to have a main character, well plumped-out with personality description and made an engaging sort of a person, whom the unsuspecting reader begins to like, knocked-off with bloody malice aforethought out of the blue; or, whether the subject of the exercise should be someone wholly unknown, or of little interest to the reader. This decision will bear hard on the type of story which follows the author making their mind up on this important point.

For many years it was thought absolutely beyond the pale for a main character to meet their Doom in this manner; in fact, looking back over a lifetime of reading I cannot think of one example, on the spur of the moment. But today, with the surrounding lax moral outlook which appears to be the Character of the Age,—or is it just a modern fresh outlook for which we should all be extremely grateful?—such outcomes are ten a penny. You can hardly pick up a murder novel or story these days without, before opening the first page, wondering if the hero or heroine is going to make it to the last page unscathed; or, indeed, alive? This lending an air of doubt to the whole situation which may tend to put the reader off taking the plunge at all.

How much of a thrill should a Thriller contain? Enough to sate the most sybaritic of readers? Or just that soupçon of delicate seasoning that gives a quiver to the taste-buds? The same, of course, goes for all the other participating genres; if a Murder, how many? If a Mystery, how complex or straight-forward? If a Police Procedural, how in-depth and detailed, with well-researched material? If a Detective, how much of the character of Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, or of the modern participants of such should it contain?

Does one want to traverse the shadowy dusty corridors of History, usually the Nineteenth century, for earlier settings? A lot of research needed there; especially nowadays, with everyone their own expert, thanks to the internet and Wikipedia. And as to the main character or characters? Should you play safe with a strong broad-shouldered Man? Or go for a Woman? Or juggle your options and have a couple detecting? And if a couple, which? Two men, simply partners? Or gay partners? Or two women ditto, either platonic or Sapphic? Or a Man and a Woman, perhaps romantically inclined, or perhaps not? Choices, choices.

And the villain; for there must be a villain? Forgive me stating the obvious, but you cannot have a murder without a murderer; stands to reason. And, indeed, for the requirements of a Thriller-Murder-Detective story, absolutely necessary, I should have thought. So, you the author, must now decide whether this person is male or female; is one or many; is someone in the spotlight of the novel-story, or hiding in the shadows somewhere on the outskirts of the tale.

Certainly, nowadays there are novels which are outright bloodfests, gore and body parts flying all over the shop; ending up in the heroine's bath; spread wholesale all over the hero's living-room, making a terrible mess of his expensive decor; or untidily to be found in a multiplicity of locations all over town, as the mad psychopath goes about his or her hobby of an evening. The reader, and especially the author, will by now be having second thoughts about becoming mixed up in the whole sorry muddle; I mean, do you really want to spend a few happy hours of reading-time of an evening struggling through the quagmire of possibilities outlined as above?

But then the seasoned reader, being an old hand at these things, buckles up and straightens their shoulders, be they male or female, well-knowing the delights to be found in a really well written Murder-Mystery-Detective story. The thrill of the chase; the enjoyment of watching the heroes' cock up the whole thing for most of the way through the book; the excitement of the final climax; the delight in finding that the hero or heroine makes it to the last page, more or less in one piece; Oh, the joy of it all!

And there I leave you, dear reader and revered author; the latter having written, against great odds, a fine example of the genre; while the former has wallowed, even if but briefly and vicariously, in the nasty dangerous gruesome side of Life, and been highly delighted with the experience, too!


Another essay in this series will arrive shortly.