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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

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