As thriller authors and fans, we scour the virtual shelves for stories that weave in several key elements, but which is the one that keeps you turning pages? Is it…
High Stakes Often, the future of the world is held in the balance, whether it’s an evil conspiracy to control financial markets, a bio-weapon unleashed in the water supply, or a powerful artifact that will alter the destiny of humankind. I wove all three into my first thriller, The Seventh Stone.
Seemingly Impossible Odds As in some of my favorites: Indiana Jones and his professor dad against the Nazi juggernaut; Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Agent Pendergast against his clever but deranged brother; a teenage girl who must fight to the death to survive gladiatorial-style games in the Hunger Games.
Universal Theme The search for truth about the fundamentals of the Christian faith, the utter determination of an innocent hobbit to right a wrong, underscoring the value of human life by risking, sometimes sacrificing, your own.
The Ticking Clock, the Moral Struggle, the Larger-than-life Characters and more are all ingredients for a successful thriller covered in the many writing books, conference workshops and how-to articles on thriller writing.
But, surprisingly, one key element barely merits a mention. It is the driving force not only of a compelling story, but what makes authors want to write that story and readers eager to turn the page. It motivates fiction and real life. It steers our choices and the story’s characters’ choices of what to eat, wear and say. It’s why we do what we do at work and in play.
The Surprising Secret of Successful Thrillers is:
The Desire to be Loved.
Romance is the most obvious use of this core element. Readers flock to the Mockingjay trilogy for the dynamic between Katniss and Peeta. Indiana Jones begins and ends the search for the Ark with Marion. And James Bond (well, need I say more?). But the desire to be loved can motivate the hero’s search for truth about faith to confirm the love of God or the villain’s need to control the world to gain his twisted father’s approval. Even when it is beneath the surface of the story, buried like the troubled past of Teddy Daniels in Shutter Island, the desire to be loved is why the reader connects to the characters and keeps reading.
What books have you enjoyed where you kept turning the pages not only to see what happens, but to find out if the character fulfills this fundamental desire to be loved?