I would like to welcome Lucie Whitehouse to my blog today, for her Keep You Close Blog Tour. Read below for Lucie's 5 top tips on writing a psychological thriller. Keep You Close is being published by Bloomsbury on 10 March 2016.
5 Top Tips on writing psychological thrillers
By Lucie Whitehouse
In the past handful of years, psychological thrillers have taken the reading world by storm. Before I Go To Sleep, Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train, this year’s The Widow and countless others – one by one they’ve dominated the bestseller lists and sold in the millions.
What makes them so successful? They’re unputdownable – so much so that Marian Keyes recently coined the term ‘grip lit’ to describe them. The suspense is there from the start, hooking us then building and building until we’re flying through the pages. Atmospheres are tense and uncertain, everything and everyone shifting and unreliable. ‘Trust no one’ is the rule of the road not only for the protagonist but us, the reader. Unlike action thrillers, where the excitement comes from explosions or heists, psychological thrillers derive their power from mental and emotional developments so that a single line of dialogue can chill us to the bone. And the other pure pleasure? The twists – being kept guessing all the way to the end.
Here are my tips for writing one of your own.
1. Choose the right point of view. Psychological thrillers are almost always narrated in the first person, I, or in a close third person told ‘over the shoulder’ of the protagonist, allowing access to his or her private thoughts and fears. For the reader to experience the character’s uncertainty and terror for herself, there needs to be as little barrier as possible between the two so seeing inside the character’s mind is essential.
2. Ask a major question at the beginning of the book and withhold the answer until the end. This will give your novel the narrative spine it needs and grab your reader from the start. In Gone Girl, for example, we are faced almost immediately with the question of what has happened to Amy Dunne. Is she dead? And if so, was it her husband who killed her? In Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, a classic of suspense, we know from the start that the nameless main character and Maxime, her husband, can never go back to Mandalay. The action of the novel tells us why.
3. Make your characters complex – and flawed. If psychological suspense as a genre has a central question, it’s this: can we ever really know another person? Most frighteningly, can we know the people we think we know best: our closest friends, our partners? In her new novel, You Will Know Me, to be published in June in the UK, Megan Abbott asks if we can even know our own children. Characterisation of the major players in a good psychological novel is like a striptease: we are presented with one version and then, gradually, tantalisingly, the layers come off to show us what’s really underneath.
Unreliable narrators are of the essence here. Many of the protagonists of these novels have a condition that prevents them from being reliable: Kate in The Girl on the Train is an alcoholic who blacks out when drinking; Christine in Before I Go To Sleep has a form of amnesia that wipes her memory every night. Dissociation, fugue states and denial are common. And of course, these things leave a person vulnerable…
… To characters who have an agenda. Because almost everyone in these novels is flawed and therefore has something to hide. Whether it’s criminal or just shameful is for your reader to decide. And that takes us back to the rule of the road: trust no one. In these books, even the protagonist to whose thoughts and fears we have access shouldn’t be completely visible to us straight away. Some characters – Kate and Christine, above – show us from the start that they are unreliable witnesses, others don’t so much as hint at it. When they’re revealed, we are thrown completely – thrillingly – for a loop.
4. Do the twist. But when setting out to wrong-foot your reader, pay careful attention: readers are watching for the slightest hint, knowing that in a well-written book, nothing is included without a purpose. The trick is to disguise that purpose, to make it look as if you’re including the relevant information for a different reason. In other words, while you’re planting the seeds with one hand, distract the reader with the other.
5. Make sure that every development is logical and bears second reading. An attentive reader wanting to understand how he or she has been duped will often go back to find out. The ingenuity of the puzzle is a major part of the appeal of these books so everything has to make practical and psychological sense. Be ready!
About Keep You Close
Keep You Close
By Lucie Whitehouse
Published by Bloomsbury (10 March 2016)
They said it was a tragic accident.
She knows better...
The brilliant young painter Marianne Glass is found dead in her snow-covered garden.
Rowan Winter, once her closest friend, knows it wasn't an accident.
Marianne had vertigo, paralysing vertigo.
She never would have gone that close to the edge.
About Lucie Whitehouse
Lucie Whitehouse was born in Gloucestershire in 1975, read Classics at Oxford University and now lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of The House at Midnight, the TV Book Club pick The Bed I Made and Before We Met, which was a Richard & Judy Summer Book Club pick and an ITV3 Crime Thriller selection. Keep You Close is her fourth novel.
Find Lucie Whitehouse on Twitter: @LWhitehouse5
Follow the Blog Tour: