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Keep Readers on the Edge of Their Emotional Seats

As we’ve already discussed, thriller fiction is supposed to keep readers on the edge of their emotional seats. It’s supposed to get their hearts racing and their adrenaline spiking and their eyes widening in surprise or narrowing in tense suspicion as they flip page after page after page to see what happens next.

With literary fiction, women’s fiction and a number of other genres and subgenres, readers can easily take in a chapter or two before bedtime, then turn off the lights to fall asleep with no problem whatsoever.

Those literary categories are meant to engage and interest their audience, of course, but at a gentle or at least gentler pace.

Thriller fiction, however, doesn’t do gentle. It teases and tempts and tantalizes every step of the way by following the Writing Rule below.

Keep Readers on the Edge of Their Emotional Seats

Mystery fiction is meant to keep readers on the edge of their intellectual seats. Thriller fiction is meant to keep them emotionally riveted. Which means you’ve got to give them an absolute roller coaster ride of events.

That doesn’t mean making the story non-stop action. Quite the contrary. Adding lighter moments between your daring chase scenes and near-death experiences keeps readers stewing in suspense, wondering what’s going to strike next. Because there’s always something.

That’s an oft-overlooked writing rule, much to writers’ detriment and readers’ disappointment. As I’ve said in previous posts on past topics, too much focus on any literary element or device is a negative.

No matter the genre, you don’t want to have too much dialogue or setting detail or character description in a row. Otherwise, it gets boring. Tedious. Non-engaging.

Readers need variety: a careful consideration of how, what, when, where, why and who artfully applied to every chapter, page and paragraph.

The same applies to action vs. exposition vs. buildup vs. setup. Even in a genre known as thriller fiction, it can’t all be vroom vroom.

Well, it can be. But not if you want to keep readers on the edge of their emotional seats.

Consider football, where there are exciting games and boring games. Boring games are shutouts where one team does nothing but score, quite possibly because the refs keep siding with them like they’re not refs at all but hardcore, unethical fanboys.

Or something like that.

An exciting game, however, is where both teams are evenly matched, with one scoring and then the other… a good call here and a yell-at-the-refs call three plays later… time to run to the bathroom or grab another slice of pizza and then time to be screaming at the TV, shouting on your black and yellows (or something like that) to keep going. Keep going.

Keep going!


An exciting game requires proper buildup and variety. Will they or won’t they win?

Nobody can predict it, no matter how hard they try.

That’s the same kind of rule you want to apply when writing thriller fiction. Let your protagonist have their quieter – though not gentle – moments standing in line for coffee or enjoying witty repartee with their partner in crime-fighting. Just always with an added edge: the knowledge that something could happen in the very next second.

Even if it doesn’t. Yet.

That’s how you keep readers on the edge of their emotional seats. By employing a whole range of reader emotions, not just the thrilling ones, throughout your thriller fiction.


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