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7 Tips for Writing Psychological Thrillers

Updated: 1 day ago

Writing amazing psychological thrillers involves a combination of practices and skills that contribute to creating a captivating and suspenseful story.

It takes research, planning, plotting, nuance, and refinement.

Psychological thrillers fall under the crime fiction genre and are more character driven. The most interesting questions the reader has will revolve around the characters’ minds and behavior.

1. Research and authenticity

Conducting thorough research to ensure the accuracy and authenticity of the psychological elements of your fictional story is incredibly important. Whether it’s psychological disorders, investigative techniques, or legal procedures, authors strive to portray them realistically. Details enhance the believability of fiction and strengthen its impact.

I can’t stress enough how much research needs to be done for phycological thrillers to create authenticity and keep readers trusting the storyteller.

2. Thorough planning

Psychological crime storytellers invest a lot of time meticulously planning their stories. They outline the main plot points, key twists, and character arcs. They also lay the groundwork for their characters by delving into the psychological elements of the story, mapping out the motivations, fears, and secrets of the characters. Planning helps authors of this genre have a solid foundation and maintain a clear direction as they write.

3. Deep character development

Psychological thriller fiction novels rely heavily on complex and multi-dimensional characters.

Authors spend significant time developing characters’ backgrounds, personalities, and motivations. As in other types of fiction, they explore their strengths, weaknesses, and hidden desires, but for this genre, authors must delve deeper into their psychological states, which may differ from what many would consider within the ‘normal’ range.

The more layered and realistic fictional characters are, the more readers can connect with them on an emotional level.

I love connecting with characters who have a psychological disorder. When this happens, I know the author has successfully written them as believable, and through motivations, emotions, or situations, I’ve been able to bond with them.

4. Building suspense

Suspense is a key element of thriller novels. Authors carefully craft their narratives to gradually build tension, heightening the stakes, and increasing the conflicts as the story progresses. They use various techniques, such as foreshadowing, strategic reveals, and the manipulation of reader expectations, to keep readers engaged and invested in the outcome.

Yes, I said manipulation. Psychological thrillers have an intensified level of manipulation. All authors play mind games with their readers, but this genre takes them to the next level.

5. Intricate plotting

Plotting is crucial for crime fiction. They must have intricate and well-paced plots that keep readers guessing and eager to uncover the truth. Authors often incorporate unexpected twists, red herrings, and complex interconnections between characters and events to maintain intrigue and surprise readers.

I love the term red herring. Herring was used to leave a sent trail for hunting dogs to chase. The term wasn’t used to describe a false lead until much later. By the way, any herring will do, but cooking one turns it red!

6. Evocative writing style

As in all fiction writing, developing a style that is evocative, atmospheric, and immersive is crucial as is using vivid descriptions and sensory details. But careful word choice can create, not only an immersive experience, but provide suspense or even guide the readers to a conclusion in psychological thrillers. The aim is to transport readers into the minds of my characters, heighten the psychological tension, and possibly lead them to false deductions!

7. Revise and refine

Writing amazing psychological thrillers often requires multiple rounds of revision. Authors revise their fictional works diligently. Like authors of other genres, they focus on tightening the plot, enhancing the pacing, and refining the character arcs, but they pay attention to what they keep hidden from their readers, the when and how clues and red herrings are revealed, and the effectiveness of the suspenseful moments and cliffhangers.

As an editor, of course, I think numerous editing rounds helps polish the story and ensure its impact on readers, but it’s also true.

Even the greats didn’t write a perfect first draft. Or second. Or third.

Remember, writing fiction is a continual learning process, and what works for one author may not work for another.

It’s important you find your unique voice, experiment with different techniques, and stay committed to honing your craft.

Embrace the joy of storytelling, and don’t be afraid to take risks and push the boundaries of your creativity.

Concerned you aren't taking enough risks? Schedule a chat!

Happy Writing!

Kristin Noland – Speculative fiction and crime fiction editor

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