How to write an engaging psychological suspense novel (2023)

When I first set out to write a psychological thriller, the first thing I looked up was "How do you write a psychological thriller?" she remembered very little. It's a complex genre that's difficult to write, and there's little information available to aspiring thriller writers on how to write a compelling story that will keep readers guessing at all times.

I just had to do it myself based on what I got from the books I had read.

I learned a few things after finishing my psychological thriller, so I thought I'd share it with you today in the hope that it will help you better understand the genre.

But what is a psychological thriller?

A psychological thriller is a story in which the main character experiences deep psychological conflict due to external circumstances, usually in a situation that inspires paranoia and suspicion that leads him to question his sanity. The protagonist must face the depths of his character in order to resolve the story, and for this reason, psychological thrillers must have strong character arcs. Characters often have unsavory traits, but we root for them for that suffering and potential for redemption.

(And the people around them usually turn out to be much worse.)

Classic psychological thrillers include:

As you can see, the psychological thriller is a blockbuster genre when done right. They often straddle the line between the horror and crime genres, but what separates a psychological thriller from a horror thriller is that it doesn't necessarily depend on it.explicitGore or brutality for your emotion. As the story progresses, it takes a harrowing situation and the tension builds.

it is for a psychological reason

It seems obvious, but it's important to remember that a psychological thriller is about the psychology of the main character. There's so muchinternalconflict as it existsexternalConflict.

When there is too much external conflict, it becomes a regular thriller.

If there is too much internal conflict, it becomes a boring book.

As you write, you should leave space to express the character's inner conflict, even if it's in the third person. This is one of the reasons why many psychological thrillers are written in the first person, to keep the suspense close to the character and therefore the reader.

Your main character may have a documented mental health condition that makes her an unreliable narrator. It is important to do extensive research before writing about these very real psychological conditions in order to accurately represent them.

Or it could be an ordinary person in an extraordinary situation whose mental state deteriorates as the story progresses. An excellent example of the latter category is the classic film Gaslight, from which the term gaslighting originates.

Start with familiar emotions

Contrary to popular belief (and the myriad of home thrillers out there), a psychological thriller doesn't have to start in a familiar place. It has to start with familiar emotions. The reader must understandwhythe protagonist finds himself in this situation and empathizes with his psychological situation.

This advice comes from William Goldman's classic book on writing.Adventures in screen trading.Feelings are universal, attitudes are not.

AmRebeca,The unnamed main character suffers from a lack of self-esteem when compared to Rebecca, his lover's ex-wife. Also, the terrifying paranoia of pregnancy and her baby brain is experienced by many parents, sorosmarins babyit's so successful

The biggest enemy is yourself

How to write an engaging psychological suspense novel (1)

While many psychological thrillers have antagonists, the biggest enemy the protagonist must defeat is himself.

AmThe silence of the lambs,Clarice Starling must silence the screaming lambs of her childhood to save herself and others. Hannibal Lecter is an antagonist in that sense, but it also allows you to understand her deep psychological conflict.

Think about what your main character needs to do to deal with their internal conflict. When planning the novel, be sure to include this as part of the story arc, and think of scenes that might reflect this progression.

Trust the unreliable narrator

Everyone likes to present themselves at their best, just like your characters.

But what if your characters aren't as good as they seem? In many psychological thrillers, the main character seems "normal" at first glance. The reader can join them. But as the story progresses, they will become more and more disengaged.

If you choose to go this route, you'll need to research the psychological state of your characters, such as: B. Sociopathy - and understand the character traits associated with these psychological conditions. Provide clues about these behaviors in the book so that when readers go back and piece it all together, they are surprised but not surprised when the truth emerges.

Everyone has secrets, including the author.

Nothing in a psychological thriller is what it seems on the surface. What may seem like a normal loving family gradually dissolves as the story progresses, as in the case of Gillian objects.

As a writer, you know the secrets of your characters. But it is not only the main character who has secrets for the reader. Each main character should have their own secrets that will be revealed as the novel progresses. This means that you can keep the reader on their toes while wondering what's going on.Yes reallylos.

Walk the tightrope

Conrosmarins baby, Ira Levin keeps the reader guessing until the very end, walking the fine line between "Are they supernatural powers or are they baby brains?" Equally,Ex girlfriend(inspired by Rosemary's Baby), perpetuates the question: "Did Nick Dunne kill his wife or did she disappear?"

Part of successful plot twists and reader guesswork is leading a novel that could go either way. Start with the question you'd like to keep alive: When I was writing my psychological thriller, I wanted to follow the line: "Is something supernatural going on, or is the protagonist going crazy from the pressures of college?"

As you write, make sure that the scenes reflect both sides of this question and that the supporting characters express different perspectives on the issue; some may be convinced of supernatural influences, others may be convinced that the character is going insane. Keep in mind that each supporting character has their own motivations behind what they say. Making the protagonist think that he is going crazy might be part of his plan...

Drip feed information to your reader

One of the hardest parts of writing a psychological thriller is knowing how much information to share at any given time. It's important to keep providing new information in almost every chapter, but the main character needs to act on that information and process it internally. Rather explain too little than too much.

Plan your investments

How to write an engaging psychological suspense novel (2)

While most of the information is trickled down to the reader, you need to allow for moments of outright bombshells, those swings where the reader will be shocked by the turn of events.

Inversions are hard to write well. If you don't line them up correctly, the reader might reject your book for the absurd twist. However, if you do it right, you'll be talking to your readers for years.

At least one of these reversals should take place at the end of the book, who can forget the ending?rosmarins baby?

The key to writing an investment is to keep the twist in mind from the start and plan backwards. While some successful thriller writers make up the story over time, it's incredibly difficult to incorporate twists and turns without a basic plot outline. Think about how you want your reader to perceive your protagonist and her novel up until the plot twist, and then structure it accordingly.

Revelations must be earned

Psychological thrillers often involve informal investigators, e.g. B. Family members discovering a secret, journalists investigating a mystery, or vacationers who accidentally witnessed a crime. While they will have their own ways of uncovering mysteries throughout the story, revelations must be earned, just like more formal criminal investigations. Characters can't just show up and let everything be revealed. You have to work for the information.

If you're trying to convince people to reveal long-held secrets, there must be a reason they're finally speaking out. Do you wonder why now? Has the investigator uncovered new evidence or a new clue that reinforces the mystery? Is the researcher incredibly convincing? Does an event evoke memories of a forgotten (or ignored) period in the city's history? All of these could be hints on how to solve the mystery.

How do you end a psychological thriller?

Psychological thrillers have three main endings. Usually, the ending should be either delightfully satisfying or shocking (or both if you're really good).

Bittersweet satisfaction

The protagonist can accept his situation and make the most of it, like some of the books I have listed. Or the protagonist deals with his psychological challenges and confronts his demons. But psychological thrillers don't have happy endings; they are bittersweet. The main character was separated and put back together at the end of the novel: they will never be the same again.

The revelation of the true me

Alternatively, starting with a semblance of sanity, the character has revealed his true self to the reader. And while this could be a violent psycho, there's also a satisfaction in knowing they can get away with it. Alternatively, the protagonist could be a victim of the person revealing his true self.

Some examples are:

lose your mind

Here the main character has completely lost his mind. This ending is difficult to resolve satisfactorily, as it relies on convincing the reader of the psychological reality of the character's descent into madness.

An example of this is:

  • The yellow wallpaperde Charlotte Perkins-Gilman


When done right, the psychological thriller is one of the most exciting page-turning genres. I hope these tips have helped you understand what makes a great psychological thriller. Remember, if you have any questions, ask them in the comments section below.


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