Skip to main content

One Simple Question All Writers Should Ask Themselves

In this brief exercise, Douglas Preston, co-author of the bestselling Pendergast novels (Relic) and The Monster of Florence, challenges writers to really write what they know to take their thrillers to the next level.


Write what you know.

Sure, we’ve all heard it time and again, but many writers still swear by it in one way or another. Just ask Douglas Preston, co-author of the bestselling Pendergast novels (Relic) and The Monster of Florence. As he instructed in his ThrillerFest session “Nonfiction: The Key to Writing That Bestselling Thriller”:

“Find that specialized knowledge that you have already inside yourself, even if it seems totally boring to you, and delve into it and find the thriller in there. … Bring that knowledge to the reader.”

What specialized knowledge do you have that might imbue your writing with new life or a unique hook that only you could have written? Preston says to consider your life experiences, your job. So make a list of them: How might you channel your past and your knowledge to take your writing to the next level?

If you use your expertise or background in your fiction, you’re in good company: Consider The Firm: a legal thriller written by John Grisham—a lawyer. Or, for that matter, Relic: Preston worked in a museum and he co-wrote this book about a monster in a … museum.

Moreover, Preston says bringing detailed true-life facts to your fiction can do wonders for your work. Take Jaws: Preston notes that it’s filled with nonfiction, and that’s what makes it such a great read. “It scares the hell out of you.”

How might you use what you already know to bolster your book?

“Every one of you here has access to specialized information,” Preston says. “That is what will make your breakout thriller.”

What to know what plots work best in novels? Consider:
20 Master Plots

Become a WD VIP and Save 10%:
Get a 1-year pass to WritersMarket.com, a 1-year subscription to Writer's Digest magazine and 10% off all WritersDigestShop.com orders! Click here to join.


Also check out these items from the Writer's Digest's collection:
Writer's Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Beginnings, Middles & Ends

Writer's Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Scene & Structure

Writer's Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Conflict, Action & Suspense
Writer's Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Description
Writer's Digest Elements Of Writing Fiction: Characters & Viewpoint

Writer's Digest No More Rejections
Writer's Digest Weekly Planner

Writer's Digest How to Land a Literary Agent (On-Demand Webinar)
Writer's Digest Magazine One-Year Subscription
Writer's Digest 10 Years of Writer's Digest on CD: 2000-2009


In-Between: Writer's Digest 2nd Annual Personal Essay Awards Winner

In-Between: Writer's Digest 2nd Annual Personal Essay Awards Winner

Congratulations to Alyssa Rickert, Grand Prize winner of the 2nd Annual Writer's Digest Personal Essay Awards. Here's her winning essay, "In Between."

Things To Consider When Writing About Ghosts and the Supernatural in Fiction

Things To Consider When Writing About Ghosts and the Supernatural in Fiction

From maintaining subtlety to visiting haunted places, author J. Fremont shares everything to consider when writing about ghosts and the supernatural in fiction.

6 Effective Steps To Promote Your Forthcoming Book on Social Media and Feel Good About It

6 Effective Steps To Promote Your Forthcoming Book on Social Media and Feel Good About It

Social media is a daunting albeit important aspect of promoting our work. Here, author Aileen Weintraub offers six steps to promote your book on social media authentically.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 609

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a world-building poem.

Writer's Digest Presents podcast image

Writer's Digest Presents: World-Building (Podcast, Episode 5)

In the fifth episode of the Writer's Digest Presents podcast, we talk about world-building in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry, including interviews with authors Whitney Hill (fiction) and Jeannine Hall Gailey (poetry).

Heirloom

Heirloom

Every writer needs a little inspiration once in a while. For today's prompt, someone's shown up demanding your narrator's family heirloom.

May Cobb: On Stolen Moments

May Cobb: On Stolen Moments

Author May Cobb discusses offering readers a summer of mayhem with her new novel, My Summer Darlings.

The Time Is Now: Securing First-Hand Accounts of History for Writing Projects

The Time Is Now: Securing First-Hand Accounts of History for Writing Projects

Writer Stephen L. Moore discusses the benefits of having first-hand accounts for historical writing and offers advice on best practices in securing interviews while there’s still time.

From Script

Character Exploration and Development in Television (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, exclusive interviews with writers, showrunners and more who share a common thread of character exploration and development!