Drawn to the Dark Side – Writing the Thriller

“What’s the best way to assassinate someone and make it look like an accident?” “How about poisons – which are undetectable in an autopsy?” In most circles, these types of questions would be cause for alarm – and notification of the authorities. Not so at Thrillerfest, the premier writer’s conference for thriller writers where talk about death, murder, and conspiracies abound. There, I can share my ideas without anyone raising an eyebrow. The running joke is that our Google histories have landed us all on a watch list.

Sometimes I forget that not everyone understands the thriller writer. Years ago, when I attended my first session of a local writing workshop, I didn’t think too much about what I was going to read to the group. These were people I had just met, yet, it didn’t occur to me to tone down my reading selection until they knew me better. The looks on their faces when I was finished said it all. Was I as crazy as the sociopath I had created? Fortunately, the teacher knows me well and commented with a wry smile, “How does such a nice person write such despicable characters?” A good friend recently read a few excerpts from my current work in progress, looked at me for a long moment; eyebrows furrowed, and then asked, “How do you come up with this stuff?” The writer is not her character and it is called fiction for a reason. But when you write thrillers, people closest to you often look askance when they discover what goes on in your imagination.

Are thriller writers scarier than the average person? I have always been an avid thriller reader. A favorite author and friend, David Morrell – the creator of Rambo, is one of the nicest people I know. He is gracious, kind, helpful, and humble. Nothing like the evil characters he creates. I have found that to be the norm among thriller writers.

What I love about writing and reading thrillers is the depth of character displayed by the heroes. They are ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances. It is exciting to watch as my protagonists draw on inner resources they didn’t know they had, and ultimately prevail over the villains. The road is fraught with obstacles, setbacks, and failures, leaving me on the edge of my seat and worried that they will never make it.

Do thriller writers love evil? Quite the opposite. There is a kind of comfort in watching the heroes work through the struggles facing them. It’s the age-old desire to see good win over evil. When good triumphs, all is right in the universe, if only in the story world.


  1. Gabi Coatsworth on August 24, 2019 at 4:03 pm

    It’s always the nicest people who have the darkest imaginations – and better they should write it than do it, anyway. A thriller wouldn’t be half as much fun to read if it was an autobiography…

  2. Foti Jean-Pierre Fotiu on December 16, 2019 at 2:35 pm

    It feels great to write stories exploring the dark world off treacheries, injustices-and mysterious consequences of events, knowing that you can control your fantasies and return
    back to reality.

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