Thriller stories tend to be explicit of detail to the point of being graphic in description. The detail in novel writing, particularly in thriller stories, is much enhanced to give readers a sense of a thrill at the cost of their heart jumping up into their throats.
A Sara Mason Mystery
A good example of thriller writing is the excerpt which follows below. This is but the first sequel to River Bones.
If I may digress, good book writing format used to contain a continuous focus plot from beginning to end. However, in this thriller, the story starts as a continuation from River Bones, the original Sara Mason story. We find ourselves in the jungle in Vietnam. But more on that later, perhaps. After that segment, Sara goes on to solve a cold case on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. So the common book writing format was put aside so that I could weave in Sara’s love interest, Huxley Keane’s subplot and bring it forward. I hope you will follow the series of thriller stories as the lives of the characters carry through from one sequel to another.
In a thriller, it isn’t enough to say Sara was run off the road and hung upside-down in her overturned car, fearing death was near. Today’s readers of thriller stories would want to suffer along with the character and know what was going through her mind; her fear, her hopes, how she coped through the experience, if she made it at all, and if she managed if she save herself.
What follows is an nerve-wracking description of that scene. We will discuss it as we move through the descriptive writing.
Sara didn’t know how much time had passed when she became conscious again. It had turned pitch-black out as the clouds drifted over the sliver of moon. Reality slowly filtered in. A dim glow of a distant light across the field produced just enough reflection to make out how she found herself. The minivan had come to rest almost on its right side. If her movements might cause the car to roll further, restrained by the seatbelt, she would hang upside-down. The roof of the van was smashed and enclosed the claustrophobic area in which she lay. Trapped by the seat belt, she got her arms free but had little feeling and movement remaining in the left one. Pinned by her weight against the seat belt latch that wouldn’t come loose, she couldn’t move around, nor found much strength to do so. She struggled to grasp the lever to turn the headlights back on. When they didn’t come on, she managed to find the car key to turn the engine on again but no sound emitted. She tried the headlights again but no light shown.
Dizziness engulfed her. The smell of blood assaulted her senses. She felt numbed and began to tremble and shake. She was going into shock! She poked and squeezed at her body as much as she could with her right hand, trying to ascertain from where the blood smell originated. She pressured the top of her head and screamed in pain. She tried to talk and sing to hear herself and stay conscious but all that came out were weak pathetic moans. It took every bit of discipline to keep from passing out again.
In thriller stories, for authenticity, imagine yourself critically hurt, alone, disoriented, and possibly bleeding to death. You’d be disoriented, too, to the point of confusion an vertigo. Then, if you gather your senses, if only for a moment, you would realize you must fight to stay alive, or give in to what’s happening.
Thin moonlight broke through as she opened her eyes once more. She glanced about. The windshield hung outward, nearly detached. The moonlight and distant light in the field caught in the prisms of the shattered glass and made the windshield look like crushed ice. The driver’s side window was gone. Looking upward through the open space, she could see an occasional star between the slithering white drifts across the night sky. She had been sprinkled with glass and weeds that ripped out of the ground as the car rolled. Now rain came, a sprinkle at first, then the clouds let loose.
“I’m not going to die here!” She meant to scream it but realized she was barely coherent enough to speak.
She shielded her eyes from the rain pouring in as best she could. Then, as tropical rains go, the clouds passed mauka, taking the downpour with them.
Vertigo came again. She was now cold, wet and disoriented but became aware of stinging pain at the top left side of her head. She kept her right elbow against the passenger seat to keep herself propped up, trying to keep her head above the rest of her body because she suspected she had an open head wound that would continue bleeding if her head to lay in a downward angle. She tried to hook her left arm over the steering wheel to have something to hang onto. Moving her left arm caused her to yelp. Something ran down the side of her neck!
She fell back and clutched at her neck and felt around. “No centipedes! Not now!” It was more a thought then actually uttered. “No centipedes!”
She found nothing creeping through her hair but her hand felt slippery. The smell of fresh blood on her palm assaulted her nostrils as she tried to wipe rainwater from her face. Determined not to bleed to death, she propped herself up again. Blood ran over her face and found its way into her mouth. She was bleeding badly. Not wishing to taste it, she forcefully spat.
She blinked and wiped it out of her eyes. Her head ached. Her elbow stung. Her ear had no feeling. She needed to put pressure on the top of her head to stop the bleeding and hoped she wasn’t pressing glass shards deeper into her scalp. The effort soon weakened her and she slumped downward once more, her right shoulder popping loudly from the pressure.
She groped at her waistband. No phone. She felt around the seat as best she could. The thought of dying came to mind again. “That’s not going to happen!” She yelled as forcefully as she could. She sounded the horn, long and hard. It took all her energy to do it. She kept sounding in several sharp blasts. The absence of car lights passing indicated no traffic or she had rolled some distance from the highway. She should save battery power for when headlights might appear.
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Thriller stories cannot place the protagonist in peril and suddenly we find they are saved. That cannot happen in any novel writing format. We must hold our reader’s interest. We do that by providing a glimmer of hope and then, again, dismay and sorrow before any resolution can come about.
Faint noises came from the area outside. Weeds rustled. The movement started and stopped. It started again. Something tinkled. Then she heard sniffing. It was a dog!
“Come here, baby.” She tried to whistle but had no breath. Maybe, somehow, if she could befriend it, she could get it to go for help. Just the dog being nearby brought waves of comfort. “Come... come here....” She couldn’t see clearly, but heard the sniffing. It was close by.
Moonlight flashed on the tinkling metal tags hanging from its collar. “Help.” She hoped the animal was familiar with the word. “Get help.” Instead, the animal made a guttural squeal, almost like crying. Rustling sounds in the weeds said the dog had taken off running. The disappointment was overwhelming.
Writing thriller stories forces us to look deep within ourselves. When we set up our characters in dire situations, the only way we can bring them through it is to go within and use the knowledge we had available if we were to face such a situation ourselves. A little bit of creativity helps too. So does an active Muse!