The 10 Commandments of How to Write a Thriller

About 10 years ago, bestseller John Grisham spilled the beans that a 1973 Writer's Digest article paved the way for him to write his thrillers. Here are the 10 commandments of how to write a thriller novel.
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Every week, I spelunk into the Writer’s Digest archives to find the wisest, funniest, or downright strangest moments from our 92 years of publication.

The 10 Commandments of How to Write a Thriller

About 10 years ago, lawyer-turned-novelist John Grisham spilled the beans in Newsweek that a 1973 Writer's Digest article paved the way for him to write his bestseller The Firm.

Naturally, we've been geeking out about this since we first heard it, and see it referenced every so often in relation to Grisham books, but I'd never actually read the piece. So I dug it up today—it's by author Brian Garfield, and was originally titled "10 Rules for Suspense Fiction."

In case the next Grisham is out there reading this, I'll include Garfield's 10 points below.

Happy Friday!

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The 10 Commandments of How to Write a Thriller

  1. Start with action; explain it later.
  2. Make it tough for your protagonist.
  3. Plant it early; pay it off later.
  4. Give the protagonist the initiative.
  5. Give the protagonist a personal stake.
  6. Give the protagonist a tight time limit, and then shorten it.
  7. Choose your character according to your own capacities, as well as his.
  8. Know your destination before you set out.
  9. Don't rush in where angels fear to tread.
  10. Don't write anything you wouldn't want to read.

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Do you want to write an enthralling thriller that your readers can't put down? In Writing Thrillers, a six-week workshop, you will get the tools you need to get your thriller project off the ground or take your current project to the next level. Examine the structural elements that create a successful thriller, learn how to build compelling conflict and suspense into your story, find out what helps a story engage a reader, and much more.

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