Writing a Psychological Thriller


Thank you so much for this great site. I especially appreciate how quickly you respond to queries!

I'm writing a psychological thriller but have a few questions.

1) I write A LOT of what my character is thinking, and at one point have also used a flashback. This is necessary in psychological thrillers, right? But I'm worried that it will be boring for readers as they want action. What can I do about that?

2) Also, what about agents and publishers? Do they like thrillers that are mostly focused on the thoughts?

3) In the query letter to the agent, the paragraph describing my book makes the book come across as a thriller. How do I make it clear that it has more thoughts than action? Or should I just let it be?

4) I've read the word count list your site about thrillers (80, 000, give or take). That applies to psychological thrillers too, right?

Thank you so much. Your guidance has made writing much easier!

Response: One question at a time...

1) It's my theory (not fully tested) that psychological thrillers tend to have the Relationship throughline in the domain of Manipulation, because they are about the psychological manipulation of the main character by the impact character.

That would put the main character throughline either in the domain of Situation (e.g. the main character is caught in a threatening situation) or Attitude (where the main character is trapped in a memory, a faulty way of thinking, or an uncontrollable impulse or desire)

Now, if your main character throughline is in the Attitude domain, then you probably will spend some time sharing the character's thoughts.
That's typical of this genre.

You can, however, intersperse the main character's thoughts with events from the other throughlines. The Relationship between the main and impact characters, for instance will play out in the domain of Action. You can also make the main character's thoughts a response to actions or events. If memory is important, there can also be action in those memories.

Probably what you need to do is show the manuscript to some people you trust and see if they find the story boring or gripping.

2) Agents like what sells. If you're concerned, I suggest you look at some of the best selling books in your genre from the past few years and see if they resemble your writing. If you find a few good examples, you can sell your book as "similar to X, but with an exciting difference."

3) The focus of your query letter is to get your manuscript read. Calling the book a psychological thriller already tells the agent a lot about what to expect. Your goal then is to just make the book sound exciting, intriguing, and original so they'll ask to read it. Once they get the manuscript in their hands, they'll discover what your style is all about, and whether they can fall in love with it. So no, I would just let the issue be.

4) The word counts for psychological thrillers don't vary much from that of other adult novels. But do remember that 80,000-90,000 words is just a target. There have been some very short novels in this category. The Turn of the Screw is one example. And there have probably been longer ones too.

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