One Simple Question All Writers Should Ask Themselves

Author:
Publish date:

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


April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 11

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a prime number poem.

Stephanie Dray: On Writing Women's Legacies

Stephanie Dray: On Writing Women's Legacies

Bestselling and award-winning author Stephanie Dray shares how she selects the historical figures that she features in her novels and how she came to see the whole of her character's legacies.

From Script

Taking Note of the Structure of WandaVision and Breaking in Outside of Hollywood (From Script)

In this week’s round-up from ScriptMag.com, learn about the storytelling techniques used in the nine-part Disney+ series "WandaVision," outlining tips for writing a horror script, and breaking in outside of Hollywood as a writer and filmmaker.

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 10

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a get blank poem.

take two 3 mistakes writers make in act i

Take Two: 3 Mistakes Writers Make in Act I

Without a solid foundation, our stories flounder. Jeanne Veillette Bowerman shares insights into the three mistakes writers make when creating the first act.

David Jackson Ambrose: On Balancing Magic and Practicality

David Jackson Ambrose: On Balancing Magic and Practicality

Novelist David Jackson Ambrose discusses the initial themes he wanted to explore in his latest novel, A Blind Eye, what the editing process was like, and how his books always surprise him in the end.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Knowing When to Shelve a Project

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Knowing When to Shelve a Project

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is not knowing when to shelve a project.

April PAD Challenge

2021 April PAD Challenge: Day 9

Write a poem every day of April with the 2021 April Poem-A-Day Challenge. For today's prompt, write a persona poem (for an inanimate object).

4 Tips for Writing Engaging Frenemies

4 Tips for Writing Engaging Frenemies

No matter what genre you write, if you're planning to write characters as frenemies, you'll need to know how to do it well. Bestselling romance author Lorraine Heath shares her top tips.