Renee' Novelle is preceded by a long line of published family members, including Pulitzer Prize nominated author and Poet Laureate of Kentucky Jesse Stuart. She's an avid reader, an enthusiastic quote poster, and rarely takes "no" as a final answer. She has an unhealthy obsession for theater, dance, music and art, and strongly believes that wine is simultaneously the beginning of, and resolution to, all of life's problems. She believes in following dreams, and that in the end, you always end up where you're meant to be.
I love that last thought!
Renee's latest novel is CALCULATED, an intense psychological thriller and today she will tell us what it takes to create complex characters and a twisted plot. Even though I love to read a good psychological thriller, I don't think I could cultivate one myself. But she makes it sound less intimidating, inviting even - and that's how she lures you in!
Developing a Psychological Thriller
By Renee Novelle
As writers, we know that every genre has its own unique pleasures, as well as its own tribulations, when bringing a story to life. Psychological thrillers are no different. In fact, because the focus is more internal, more on feelings and thoughts and expressions that don’t have boundaries, the challenge to create a truly unique, gripping plot can often be complicated.
On one hand, there’s an extraordinary freedom that can be found by the limitless possibilities that embody a good psychological thriller. On the other hand, the devil is in the details as they say, and not paying very close attention to that could turn a great story into a mediocre one.
For any new writers wishing to dabble in this genre, here are my five key points in developing a wicked story line that readers won’t be able to put down.
I know, this seems like an elementary point to make. However, crafting just the right core concept for a psychological thriller can often be the writer’s first stumbling block.
Don’t be afraid to dive into the dark and controversial when exploring the genre. In fact, often times it’s those socially controversial subjects that do the best. Silence of the Lambs dealt with cannibalism and cross dressers. Shutter Island introduced us to a world of mental illnesses. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo wasn’t afraid to mix misogynist rapists with religious elements. Push the limits of your own comfort zone, and introduce your audience to a perspective they might not be all together familiar with.
This, I think is where the story really comes together. Sure, in a psychological thriller you might have characters that are a bit... out there. But it’s still extremely important to make them believable. Force the readers to connect with them. Expose their strengths and weaknesses to the fullest.
In order to do this, the characters have to be real to you. If you’re writing about a serial killer, you have to get in the mind of serial killer. If the protagonist is criminally insane, you have to know what that looks like, what it sounds like, what it feels like. That may mean reading diaries and autobiographies, watching documentaries, streaming live interviews... wherever your research takes you, plunge yourself into it fully.
When all the characters finally become real to you, everything else is just the simple matter of conveying the details to your readers.
Setting can have an extreme impact on the plot in your thriller. If the story takes place in the city, busy streets, crowded sidewalks and skyscrapers filled with people can provide all sorts of possibilities for action. If your setting is the country, the element of tranquility and silence can be used against your characters to create even more suspenseful scenes. Likewise, if your protagonist spends the entire duration of the story locked in a single room in an old house, think about what this could do to the psyche. Selecting just the right setting can make all the difference in the quality of the story.
The place in time that you decide to drop your story can also have an interesting effect when you consider all the cultural nuances that could change how people feel and, ultimately, behave. By doing thorough research into what was socially acceptable and unacceptable at the time, you can discover a myriad of opportunities to play on these concepts and further deepen the personalities of your characters. By featuring a feminist during women’s suffrage, or an interracial relationship in the 1960’s, you can show a lot about your characters – and their mentality – without having to come right out and say it. Use this to your benefit wherever possible, and make bold statements that readers can connect with.
This is my favorite part of the process! Creating unique twists that the reader didn’t see coming. And this, for me at least, is the easiest part. Generally, I’ll plot out the entire story, then go back and occasionally throw in something random, something unpredicted in the middle of an otherwise mild scene. This happens a lot in my first book, Calculated.
And don’t forget the ending. I like to spend the entire duration of the story leading my readers to a certain place. I like for them to believe they know what will happen in that last chapter. And then, suddenly, in the last few paragraphs, I turn the tables on them and show them how nothing was as it originally seemed. And if they go back through the book, they could probably pick up on the subtle foreshadowing the entire time. This kind of mind twist – like what you can find in Fight Club and Kiss the Girls – is what will have readers not only remembering your books, but begging you to write the next one.
--That was a great article! I'm so glad Renee' chose me to host her. Great advice! And here is more about CALCULATED by Renee' Novelle.
An investigative journalist gets an unlikely tip from a mysterious informant. Dismissing it as impossible, she disregards the information and drops the story. Until the informant turns up dead, as predicted.
Plunged into the murky waters of a seedy underground prostitution ring, this psychological thriller provides twist upon dark twist in a story that would ultimately pin the church and several government officials in the largest murder cover-up the city has ever witnessed.
But is it true, or has the journalist merely been used as a pawn in a greater scheme? And how many people is she willing to sacrifice trying to figure it out?