That’s thriller fiction’s claim, anyway: the promise of an edge-of-your-seat ride on the wild side. And when it’s well-done, that’s precisely what it provides.
Thriller fiction – which I refuse to call mere thrillers for fear of getting lost in online Michael Jackson searches – is pretty bluntly named. Actually, most fiction genres are pretty bluntly named, come to think of it.
How refreshingly unpretentious.
True connoisseurs of literature (read: literary snobs) would no doubt make some snarky comments against thriller fiction here considering how much this literary genre panders to the masses’ love of adrenaline rushes.
At its core, it is a bit bread and circuses, admittedly: fictional accounts of characters thrown to the wolves for readers’ entertainment.
But personally, I’d rather read a well-written and engaging story line than a pretentious snooze-fest any day. Besides, thriller fiction can be used to make really bold societal and political commentaries, as we’ll discuss on Thursday.
For now, however, let’s consider the basics.
Novels that can be classified as thrillers are the James Bonds of the fiction world, filled with bad guys, car chases, murders, executions, daring escapes and the like.
If that sounds a bit like last week’s mystery fiction definition, it’s understandable. But there are several key differences between the two, starting with how thriller fiction isn’t just about solving a crime. The plot is important here, yes, but it shares the spotlight with the protagonist, whose personal journey is every bit as important as his or her professional one.
It might seem pretty odd then how many thriller fiction writers throw in the bad guy’s direct perspective as well, giving details from the villain’s point of view in brief chapter snippets – something true mystery fiction writers would never do, since that rather ruins the intellectual challenge. But in thriller fiction, it can be used as something of a taunt…
Look at what the bad guy’s getting away with while the good guy’s still struggling to track him down, these sections seem to say.
That’s not to say that thriller fiction has to include the antagonist’s perspective. It doesn’t. I’ll even state that adding in those behind-the-protagonist’s-scenes details can be rather tacky: a sign of an author who can’t or won’t create a full-length engaging story any other way.
Even so, it’s anything but taboo in the thriller fiction writing world. The key ingredient that makes a thriller a thriller is how the plot and protagonist come together to inspire strong emotions like outrage, intense concern, and delicious amounts of fear and anxiety.
These novels are the emotional equivalent of bungee jumping over a safety net. You get all the heart-racing thrill of falling without the likelihood of dying.
Unless you have a heart condition. Then thriller fiction writing or reading might not be the best option for you.
Try on literary fiction for size instead. It might be more your pace.