Psychological Thriller Checklist for Writers (2023)

Psychological thrillers focus on the darker side of human behavior and focus on understanding the changes in the human mind. While the main conflict is internal: overcoming fear or guilt and defeating demons, any great psychological thriller need include most, if not all, of these 45 elements.

I have compiled this list from several excellent sources. Click the link to read the full article and learn more about how to write apsychological thriller. This started out as my own reference to learn more about writing a ppsychologicalnovel, but it can help other writers write a disturbing thriller in this psychological genre.

Learn more about how to write a psychological thriller.

45 Elements to Write a Psychological Thriller

Amelia Brunskill out Dice:

1. Accept your manipulative side:

Readers want interesting events: a revelation, a discovery, or even an odd shift in tone that makes them wonder which character to trust.

2. Bad but understandable decisions:

Is there anything as delightfully heartbreaking as watching someone make a bad but understandable decision? That the decisions are understandable is just as important, because otherwise both the decisions and the characters would only irritate. The key to making terrible decisions understandable is that the characters are in a heightened emotional state. When you're stressed, when you're panicking, when you're grieving, making an unthinkable decision is much easier. When your characters are in a heightened emotional state, it makes sense that they shouldn't make coldly rational decisions and instead be free to make terribly bad decisions.

Lucy Rennick de

3. Psychological thrillers penetrate your head optimally:

We ask ourselves why we are doing this to ourselves.

4. Everything is in the head:

Psychological thrillers have to be scary, so it's really hard to tell what's real and what's the pipe dream of an overactive, clinically disturbed imagination. The reward at the end of a psychological thriller is for a protagonist to overcome their inner demons or some sort of personal struggle.

5. We don't know who to trust:

Establish a classic trope of psychological tension: that of an unreliable narrator. The story in psychological thrillers usually unfolds from the perspective of a protagonist (or an antagonist), but how can we be sure that this protagonist isn't insane and is lying to avoid punishment? The pleasure of these films lies in looking for clues or signs, although most directors will choose to hide them well.

6. Just when you have figured it all out: surprise!

Everything you thought you knew has just been turned on its head, thanks to a brilliantly crafted storyline that unfolds over the final 10 pages. Arguably plot twists are what make psychological thrillers so addictive: no matter how hard you look for them, you never see them coming (someone says they remember Bruce Willis at the end of The Sixth Sense? M. Night Shyamalan is the master of plot twists, wit The Village, The Sixth Sense and The Visit under his belt.

7. cunning horrors:

Psychological thrillers are less about jump scares and more about promoting a sense of impending dread accompanied by goosebumps and chills. We're not as concerned for POV's physical well-being as we are for his mental health. Psychological thriller writers use horror sparingly and cunningly to ensure audiences question what is real at all times.

(Video) The Interview | A Psychological Thriller Short Film by Barnaby Roper

8. It may seem like ghosts are to blame, but they probably aren't:

Psychological thrillers handle the paranormal adeptly, but the supernatural elements are almost always metaphors for the real-world challenges our protagonists face.

Hannah Richardson de

9. brain strain:

In a psychological thriller, the suspense is cerebral. The emotion is based on the mental process of the characters and consequently the reader. Psychological thrillers are like fast-paced mysteries but far more complex, with the villain employing both mental and physical manipulation.

10 Engage the reader—quickly:

To set the tone for your suspense novel, put the reader in the middle of the action and build suspense as quickly as possible. Create an immediate and intense sense of urgency by using action verbs and descriptive descriptions of not only what is happening, but also who is involved and the environment, which can increase tension.

11 Develop your characters:

Your villain must employ mental tactics that defy convention, and your hero must be exceptional in some ways. Create emotional connections with the characters, even with minimal characters, by providing physical details and some sort of backstory.

12 Leave the reader hanging:

Thrillers are characterized by suspense. Connect scene to scene and don't let the action stop. Always excited about what comes next. End each chapter with a glimpse of the next, building last-minute suspense that will have the reader turning the pages. In a psychological thriller, the action will be mostly mental and emotional. Psychological manipulations and mind tricks leave the reader guessing.

13 time is everything:

Time itself is a character in a thriller. Use time to your advantage and engage the reader by using time as a catalyst for action. When your villain is playing cat and mouse with your hero, carefully time the timing of each moment the villain attacks. Don't let the reader get too lazy. Plan in light moments of relief to pull the reader back into the fast-paced action.

Mark Edwards de

14 Write what readers know:

Psychological thrillers are set in familiar places, usually the home, but it could also be the workplace. The Girl on the Train was a bestseller because many people have looked out of a train window and wondered what goes on behind the closed doors of the houses they pass.

fifteen. The topics are also known:

Marriage, family relationships, parenting, sibling rivalry and love affairs. Readers want to put themselves in the story and imagine how they would act if faced with a scary situation. The trick is to take an everyday situation and ask yourself this question: What is the worst that could happen?

sixteen. Make your characters real:

Not only the environment has to be familiar. Your characters should be too. The heroines (the main characters are usually women) and the heroes of psychological fiction are all women and men. They aren't superheroes. They are the people we are married to or live next door to. they are ourselves. Your protagonist must be ordinary and believable.

17 Give your characters bugs:

(Video) Jordan Peele’s Advice on Writing Thrillers

So your characters have to be recognizable... but they also have to have a flaw. You may be insecure or jealous; You may have a problem with alcohol or find it difficult to tell the truth. Best of all, they might be harboring a dark secret, something from their past that will bite them in the present of your novel. Both an internal and an external problem. They must grow throughout the novel and learn to face their demons, allowing them to overcome the outside threat that drives the plot. Getting into the minds of your characters is important. They need to show how their reactions and actions make them feel. But it's important to convey their emotions and their view of the world.

18 The unreliable narrator is a staple of this genre:

Can we really trust what they tell us? Can we believe what they tell themselves? Maybe they are paranoid and imagining the terrible things that are happening to them. If you make the reader wonder, they'll get hooked trying to figure it out.

19 Gira, Gira, Gira:

The twist is an essential part of the psychological thriller. Writing a brilliant phrase is hard. Sometimes it will come to you immediately and you will base the whole book on it. Other times it will come to an end. But it's something you need to put a lot of effort into, because a great twist will ensure readers will recommend your book and come back for more.

20 scare readers:

Your reader must be feeling sick with tension and desperate to know what is about to happen. Will the heroine be able to escape the terrible situation she is in? Try to avoid the obvious: footsteps following your character down dark streets, phones ringing in the night with no one on the other end.

Angela Clarkes

21 Psychological thriller readers want to get scared and terrified:

They want those emotions, so don't let them down: dose them! Increase the tension. Obviously, your overall plot needs to be tense, but it also needs to escalate. Check again and again that the tension in your novel is always there and always building. Constantly increase the pressure on your main character until he's in boiling water.

22 Keep Your Audience Excited:

You want your readers to be on the alert at all times. Throughout the novel, you should have readers asking the same question, "Oh my god, what happens next!" Stop and get your revelations out. Add lots of tension. Your reader should understand the danger, but your protagonist might not. You want them to shout instructions and warnings to your characters.

23 Do it fast:

Thrillers are fast-paced reads. You want your reader to move through the story and desperately know what's going to happen next. You want it to be a page turner. Make sure it's tight and sharp.

24 Write characters that interest your reader:

People engage more with the characters that are important to them. That doesn't mean your characters have to be likable and boring, but they do have to have redeeming qualities that audiences can empathize with. A reader will feel the suspense much more if they are interested in what happens to your protagonist.

25 Do the rotation:

Don't forget to add twists. Lead your audience down an alley just to show that all is not what it seems. Pull the rug out from under them. You want your reader to gasp out loud. A good turn can make a book.

26 Do you have a killer concept:

The most successful books tend to have a strong concept. Think about how you can improve your story. Ask yourself what sets it apart.

27 What makes it special:

(Video) Injustice: Psychological Thriller (Season 1 Complete Collection) | Real Drama

An interesting backstory is always fascinating.

Veronica Sicoes

28 Unstable state of mind:

A psychological thriller focuses on the unstable emotional or mental states of the characters, often combined with elements of mystery, suspense, or psychological horror. He often surprises the reader with twists or different angles on the same problem. It may contain horror elements such as fear, anxiety, and dread, or horror elements such as disgust, trauma, and shock.

29 Inner Fears:

The characters do not rely on their physical strength to defeat their enemies but on their mental resources, and often the enemies are not external (other characters or circumstances) but internal (phobias, insanity, impulses, feelings, fears). Even when the enemies are other characters, conflicts usually play out through mind games, tricks and manipulations, or even persistent attempts to upset each other's mental balance.

30 Interviewed protagonist:

In a psychological thriller, however, the nature of the protagonist is often questioned, and sometimes good or benign characters morph or turn out to be monstrous. In this sense, psychological thrillers not only play with the mind of the characters, but also with the mind of the reader.

31 Good tension control:

It is crucial that at every important point in the story the reader puzzles over the nature of the characters or their actions and anticipates dire developments.

32. Motivation of Character and Mood:

The most important thing in a psychological thriller, since the plot is entirely based on it, and the author must have a good understanding of human psychology.

33. Credible Intellectual Development:

The emotional and mental developments of characters in a psychological thriller must always be plausible and believable, even if they are outrageous.

34. Believable phrases:

Surprises in fiction should never surprise the reader, they should arouse and provoke re-evaluation, and they should always appear perfectly logical and inevitable in hindsight.

35. Emotional Stress:

The most common narrative styles chosen to create psychological tension and maintain emotional stress and tension are stream of consciousness and deep first-person perspective.

36. Narrative style:

Blurring the line between the reader and the story, immersing the reader squarely in the protagonist's fears and terrors can go a long way toward creating a psychological thriller effect.

37. human mind:

(Video) The Best Psychological Thrillers On Netflix Right Now

A psychological thriller deals primarily with the human mind, the most common themes it touches on are philosophical or psychological in nature, such as identity, honesty, determinism, fatalism, sanity, dualism, and exploring the darker side of human behavioral motivation.

Kath Pathak deógico/ Dice:

38. Detectable configuration:

The psychological thriller should pick up events and settings that are immediately recognizable to the reader. Instead, tension builds as secrets from the past are gradually revealed, clues deeply woven into the character development and situation. Families are often the focus of psychological thrillers. Dark secrets spanning generations or repressed domestic violence are archetypal fodder for the genre.

39. Psychological thrillers should be character-driven:

The action can be sparse, so the main characters need to be realistically drawn and their destiny needs to be something we care deeply about. The best psychological mysteries reveal succinct observations of human nature.

40 The darker side of human nature always seems to prevail:

Introduce the reader to the depths of the human condition, but offer hope and solution.

The trick in Dice:

41. Dominant themes:

Some of the best psychological thrillers of recent years have two overarching themes that keep coming up:guilt and obsession.

42. Character flaws:

Shutter Island, directed by the great Martin Scorsese and based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Teddy Daniels, an American. Marshal investigates a disappearance at a criminal insane asylum. As the story progresses we see that his overwhelming guilt over this crime had led him to create an elaborate story in his mind that gave him a new identity and the ability to cope with what he had done had.

Similarly, in The Machinist, Trevor, after falling into a vicious spiral of paranoia, learns that he killed a child in a hit-and-run accident. At this point, the answer to the hangman game is revealed: "murderer". As a result of his guilt over the incident, Trevor had lost weight and was unable to sleep for a year. Most of her visions included elements of this tragic event.

43. A character's obsession:

Show how you distance yourself from those around you. Your obsessive quest becomes more important than your family and colleagues. So while not all psychological thrillers present the themes of guilt and obsession in exactly the same way, we see that the most effective ones often conflate these themes with fear. Through the portrayal of her mental struggle in Black Swan, the viewer is totally unaware of what is real and what is just an imagination in Nina's mind. In the end, Nina cannot achieve perfection without making great sacrifices.

44. Internal Conflict:

Because guilt is a very strong personal and individual feeling. It's something that's usually internalized because the person/character in question feels terrible about an action or event, but is afraid of the consequences that will arise when the truth comes out. This fear of exposure or facing the consequences head-on collides with guilt to create the perfect mental disorder storm.

Like guilt, obsession is another emotion that involves fear and is usually internalized. The obsession is often driven by fear and can become so extreme that people/characters find it difficult to be fully transparent with others as they feel they are the only ones who can understand what they are dealing with and what they are trying to do . reach. In Black Swan, Nina is obsessed with achieving perfection. Therefore she fears imperfection. His obsession and fear are so internalized that we can't even tell the difference between what's really going on around him and what's only going on as fantasy in his mind.

45. Fear of Character:

Anxiety can be a by-product of guilt, a driver of obsession, or simply an accompanying theme. Guilt and obsession are common themes in psychological thrillers because they are deeply internalized personal emotions. This trait makes it natural to delve into a character's mind. In a psychological thriller, the only way for a character to overcome guilt is to overcome fear as well, which is achieved by accepting the truth and its consequences. Once each character does this, they are at peace.

(Video) Twilight is a Psychological Thriller, Not a Love Story


1. Gentlemen, The Devil Wears Prada is a Psychological Thriller, I Swear
(Savage Books)
2. 3 Rules Beginning Screenwriters Need To Know - Dr. Ken Atchity
(Film Courage)
3. Top 20 Psychological Thrillers
4. How To Write The Black Moment - Top 10 Criteria // Checklist Included
(Lisa Siefert | Cozy Mysteries )
5. The Gift Official Trailer #1 (2015) - Jason Bateman Psychological Thriller HD
(Rotten Tomatoes Trailers)
6. EP431: Richard Armitage — “Know, Don’t Show."
(Bestseller Experiment)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Aracelis Kilback

Last Updated: 05/06/2023

Views: 5947

Rating: 4.3 / 5 (64 voted)

Reviews: 87% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Aracelis Kilback

Birthday: 1994-11-22

Address: Apt. 895 30151 Green Plain, Lake Mariela, RI 98141

Phone: +5992291857476

Job: Legal Officer

Hobby: LARPing, role-playing games, Slacklining, Reading, Inline skating, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Dance

Introduction: My name is Aracelis Kilback, I am a nice, gentle, agreeable, joyous, attractive, combative, gifted person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.