Karen M. McManus, New York Times bestselling author of One of Us Is Lying, knows how to keep a reader on the edge of their seat. If you’re working on writing your own page-turning thriller, check out this writing advice from Karen herself!
Writing Advice for Multiple Points of View
- Create detailed character worksheets for each main character, including notes on their personality, their family, how they look/dress/talk, their likes and dislikes, and anything else that pops into your head! Even if you don’t use all of it in the book, it will help you get to know them better.
- If you listen to music while you write, make separate playlists for each character. Use those to help you switch headspace when you move from one character to the next.
- Pick one scene in the book, and write it from the perspective of each main character. If it doesn’t sound different enough, keep working on making your voices distinct.
Writing Advice for Mysteries and Thrillers
- Use different types of tension. While you’re escalating toward whatever your big reveal is, you can keep audiences invested with tension between characters or within characters and by creating smaller sub-mysteries that support the ultimate resolution.
- Make the stakes personal. In One of Us Is Lying, the main characters all faced the possibility of losing their freedom, but they also faced losing friends, family, and their hopes for the future as the story escalated.
- Create urgency with a countdown. It doesn’t have to be a literal ticking clock—any looming threat will work. In Two Can Keep a Secret, terrible things have historically happened in the town of Echo Ridge around homecoming, so as that date approaches, the characters’ suspicions and fears are magnified.
General Writing Advice
- Find critique partners at the same stage of the writing journey as you, and exchange work. My writing took huge leaps forward once I started receiving (and giving) thoughtful critique.
- At the same time, learn how to take the spirit, not the letter, of critique. Many early readers of One of Us Is Lying thought four points of view was too many. Instead of cutting characters, I worked on making their voices more distinct.
- Read for craft, especially in the genre you want to write. Note what captures your attention, and what makes it wander. Opening chapters in particular can be fun to analyze, and because they’re often requested by agents along with your query letter, they are important to get right. If a book draws you in right from the start, analyze why and apply that to your own writing.