Top Writing Tips From 13 Thriller Authors You Can Use Today


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Writing tips are designed to be a roadmap to where you want to go. They aren’t necessarily the destination. Too many of us take tips at face value, and when they don’t work for us, we get frustrated. That’s why its important to take a tip, see if it resonates with your writing style and personality, and test it.

If the writing tip works for you, keep it in your toolbox. If it doesn’t, discard it.

On that note, we have 13 writing tips brought to you by some of the best thriller authors out there. Hope that you can find some gold nuggets here that will greatly improve your writing skills:


Absorb what is useful, discard what is useless and add what is specifically your own

Bruce Lee

Patricia Cornwell

Usually the last thing I do before I go to bed is sit at my computer and just take a look at the last thing I was writing. It’s almost like I tuck my characters in at night. I may not do much, but I’m reminding myself: This is the world I’m living in right now, and I’ll go to sleep and I’ll see you in the morning.

James Patterson

I try to put myself in every scene that I’m writing. I try to be there. I try to put the kind of detail in stories that will make people experience what the characters are experiencing, within reason.

J.D. Robb (a.k.a. Nora Roberts)

In general I do a first draft fairly quickly. Just to get the story down without looking back–I don’t worry about fixing or fiddling. Once I have that initial draft, I know my characters more intimately, know the plot line more cohesively, so I can go back to page one and go through it all again, fleshing out, fixing little problems, finding where I went wrong and adjusting it, or where I went right and expanding it. Adding texture, sharpening the prose.

Tom Clancy

You learn to write the same way you learn to play golf. You do it, and keep doing it until you get it right. A lot of people think something mystical happens to you, that maybe the muse kisses you on the ear. But writing isn’t divinely inspired–it’s hard work.

Faye Kellerman

I think of a character’s description as something akin to scene-setting or stage-setting. It’s not there for the sake of simply providing details. I want to give the reader an idea of where a scene is taking place; who the main characters are; and what they look like. I like to leave a little bit to the reader’s imagination. But if you set the scene, what follows is not distracting. Once the scene is there, the characters take over with their dialogue, but they are placed in position for the reader.

Lee Child

If you believe in your book it will have a beating heart, which is why it’s important to find your own voice and write what you want to read. If you fake it, it won’t work.

John Sandford

You don’t need context in the first chapter of a thriller. You need motion, and sensory input–those five senses. One very good way to do that is to show the original crime (or other action) already happening, in the first paragraph. In other words, hit the ground running; you can put the context in the second chapter.

Elmore Leonard

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. If proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing.

Alexandra Sokoloff

Without a doubt, the most important tool I use as a writer is the Three-Act, Eight Sequence Structure I learned to use when I worked as a screenwriter. The eight-sequence structure evolved from the early days of film when movies were divided into reels (physical film reels), each holding about 10-15 minutes of film. The projectionist had to manually change each reel as it finished, so early screenwriters incorporated this rhythm into their writing, developing sequences that lasted exactly the length of a reel and built to a cliffhanger climax.

That rhythm was locked in by the even more rigid requirements of television, and all of us have seen it in action hundreds and thousands of times, in all of those movies and TV shows we’ve watched in our lifetimes. So as an author, you need to be aware that your reader or audience unconsciously expects a climax every 15 minutes in a movie – which translates to every 50 pages or so in a book. Books have more variation in length, obviously, but for a 400-page book, you’re looking at climaxing about every 50 pages, with the bigger climaxes coming around p. 100 (Act I Climax) p. 200 (Midpoint Climax), p. 300 (Act II Climax), and somewhere close to the end.

Most authors are aware of the three-act structure but not so much the eight-sequence model – so that’s why I teach it, blog it, and write books about it!

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