How The Art of Writing Thrillers Has Changed
by Benjamin Stevenson
Even ten years ago, the thriller section in your local bookshop would have looked very different to how it does today. The covers might have had explosions, guns, supercars, the shadow of a man. Nowadays covers are more likely to use landscape photography and static images (though cracked glass is still a favourite cliché). Because thrillers have changed, both inside and out.
A classic thriller guarantees certain things: suspense, a few dead bodies, a twist ending, and an action-packed climax. These don’t need a message, they just need a to deliver the requisite heart palpitations: some sweat on your brow. But modern thrillers have started taking these tropes and using them to deliver interesting and intimate stories.
The reason we have landscapes on covers now: because authors are giving us cross-sections of our communities, of our home lives. Location in a thriller used to be about how many countries James Bond or Tom Cruise could visit to jump off things. Now, location is often used in a tighter focus to reveal something about the characters battling within it. This began with the snow-swept small towns of Scandinavian Crime Fiction (exploding under the name Scandi-Noir, propelled by Stieg Larsson), and the focus has tightened even further to within single households (the modern Domestic-Noir, kicked into high gear by Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins). Thrillers used to be far-flung adventures. Now they are close to home.
No longer do we have the shadow of the man on the cover, because characters have become more varied. Mental health, severe alcoholism, illness and fallibility are examined under a close lens as thrillers take us dark places with compromised characters (hail the rise of the unreliable narrator). A story about all the wrongs in the world, of heinous crimes, is, after all, the best place to discuss human frailty. Authors are no longer afraid of diving too deep, of being too literary. Female protagonists are on the rise (as are female authors) as the genre widens for all people to tell all stories. Thriller’s used to be based heavily on disbelief and fantasy (how cool is this gunfight!; how dashing is the hero!). But now they’ve pulled inwards, and it’s become one of the most effective genres today to look deeper into humanity.
A modern thriller will give you your scares and your thrills, guaranteed. It will keep you up at night turning the pages as some of the world’s best plotters whip you from scene to scene. But it might also give you a look inside yourself, your neighbours, and your own community. And because these stories are more human, closer to home, they are all the more terrifying.
About the Author
Benjamin Stevenson is an award-winning stand-up comedian and author. He has sold out shows from the Melbourne International Comedy Festival all the way to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and has appeared on ABCTV, Channel 10, and The Comedy Channel. Off-stage, Benjamin has worked for publishing houses and literary agencies in Australia and the USA. He currently works with some of Australia’s best-loved authors at Curtis Brown Australia. Greenlight is his first novel.
A nail-biting thriller that turns popular true-crime such as Serial and Making A Murderer on its head, Greenlight will shock with twists and turns you’ll never see coming.
Four years ago, in the small town of Birravale, Eliza Daley was murdered. Within hours, her killer was caught. Wasn’t he?
So reads the opening titles of Jack Quick’s new true-crime documentary. A skilled producer, Jack knows that the bigger the conspiracy, the higher the ratings - and he claims Curtis Wade was convicted on flimsy evidence and shoddy police work. Millions of viewers agree.
Just before the final episode, Jack uncovers a minor detail that may prove Curtis guilty after all. Convinced it will ruin his show, Jack disposes of the evidence and delivers the finale unedited, leading to Curtis's eventual release.
Then a new victim is found bearing horrifying similarities to the original murder. Has Jack just helped a killer walk free?
Determined to set things right, Jack returns to Birravale looking for answers. But with his own secrets lurking just beneath the surface, Jack knows more than anyone what a fine line it is between fact and fiction. Between life and death.
Now there's only one option left. The truth.