Agent Irene Goodman On: How to Write a Thriller

Irene Goodman is the founder of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. She represents memoir, narrative history, music, social issues and commentary, animals, parenting, food, Judaica, Anglophilia, Francophilia, crafts, and lifestyle. Her fiction list includes historical fiction, women’s fiction, thrillers, literary fiction, and mysteries.

Irene offers manuscript critiques on eBay every month, starting on the first day of each month, with all proceeds going to charity. Click on the link for more details on these critiques and charity auctions.

What do I look for in a thriller?

1. I look for something that jumps out at me in an original way. So many thriller queries sound the same that they all start to blur. I lean toward things that have a romanticized air to them, such as finding Noah’s Ark or chasing down some ancient legend or artifact. But so much of that has been done that you need to be careful. Try for something that is fresh and appealing without being too off the mark.

2. So many thrillers are male-driven. No matter how smartass the obligatory female character may be, if she always needs to be rescued, it’s a drag. I would love to see a series starring a female Israeli ace pilot who is an expert in the exclusive and difficult martial art, krav maga, practiced mostly in Israel. This would be interesting and it would be encouraging. One of the foremost practitioners of krav maga in Israel today does happen to be a woman. She’s tough and she’s beautiful, and you wouldn’t want to mess with her. That’s my idea of a heroine. I don’t mean to suggest that this kind of novel should be political or choose sides or stand on a soapbox. That wouldn’t be fun to read. But a kickass woman who can hold her own would be delightful.

3. I look for clear, discernable plots that don’t have to be untangled for me to understand them. I want to be fully engaged in a story without having to stop to figure out what’s going on.

4. A thriller should be thrilling. It should have a larger-than-life quality, even if it’s about regular people in extraordinary circumstances. I want to be scared, excited and hopeful that everything will work out, even if it doesn’t.

5. I want to like the characters. Too many thrillers have competent plotlines, but the characters are just pawns being moved through a plot. If I can really care about them, and you put them in jeopardy, that’s what it’s really all about.

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