Thriller Genre Subgenres: 10 Types of Thriller Novel

Posted on Mar 29, 2024

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So, you want to write a thriller, but not just any thriller—you want it to resonate with your style and interests.

Understanding the types of thriller subgenres out there is critical because your best writing will emerge when you’re working within a framework that you’re passionate about.

To help you decide which type of thriller story is right for you, here are 10 of the most popular thriller subgenres.

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Psychological thriller

What is a psychological thriller?

Psychological thrillers delve into the intricate psychological effects of unfolding events.

Key characteristics of a psychological thriller:

  1. Mind games or manipulation
  2. Moral ambiguity
  3. Twisted family or social dynamics
  4. Unreliable narrators
  5. Deep dive into the human psyche

Famous psychological thriller examples:

  1. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – A wife goes missing, and her husband becomes the prime suspect.
  2. Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane – A U.S. Marshal investigates a mental institution and questions his sanity.
  3. Movie: “Black Swan” – A ballet dancer’s mind unravels as she prepares for a role.

Who should write a psychological thriller?

If you enjoy unraveling human behavior and exploring what drives people, this genre is for you. Those who excel in portraying complex characters and moral ambiguity should consider writing psychological thrillers.

Crime thriller

What is a crime thriller?

Crime thrillers revolve around the commission, investigation, or prevention of a crime.

Key characteristics of a crime thriller:

  1. Detective or investigator as the protagonist
  2. High stakes
  3. Clues and red herrings
  4. Criminal psychology
  5. Action-packed sequences

Famous crime thriller examples:

  1. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson – A journalist and hacker investigate a woman’s disappearance.
  2. In the Woods by Tana French – A detective confronts his past while solving a young girl’s murder.
  3. Movie: “Se7en” – Detectives hunt a serial killer who uses the seven deadly sins.

Who should write a crime thriller?

If you’re intrigued by the mechanics of law and fascinated by the criminal mind, this subgenre plays to your strengths. Strong plotting and pacing skills are a must for those considering writing crime thrillers.

Mystery thriller

What is a mystery thriller?

Mystery thrillers involve solving a mystery, often centered around murder.

Key characteristics of a mystery thriller:

  1. Whodunit structure
  2. Intricate plotlines
  3. Multiple suspects
  4. A final twist or revelation
  5. Investigative procedures

Famous mystery thriller examples:

  1. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie – Ten strangers are killed one by one on an isolated island.
  2. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – A murder happens at a school event, but the killer is unknown.
  3. Movie: “Knives Out” – A detective investigates the death of a wealthy family’s patriarch.

Who should write a mystery thriller?

If you relish crafting intricate puzzles and leading readers astray until the final page, this genre suits you. Strong plotting skills are essential for those interested in writing mystery thrillers.

Suspense thriller

What is a suspense thriller?

Suspense thrillers aim to keep readers on the edge of their seats with high tension and drama.

Key characteristics of a suspense thriller:

  1. Cliffhangers
  2. Time constraints
  3. Limited information
  4. High emotional stakes
  5. Multiple viewpoints

Famous suspense thriller examples:

  1. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown – A symbologist races against time to solve a murder and conspiracy.
  2. Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson – A woman wakes up every day with no memory of her past.
  3. Movie: “Rear Window” – A man suspects his neighbor of murder but can’t leave his apartment to prove it.

Who should write a suspense thriller?

If you excel at building tension and enjoy a gradual build-up that climaxes intensely, consider writing suspense thrillers. A keen understanding of pacing is crucial for those interested in this genre.

Action thriller

What is an action thriller? Action thrillers deliver excitement through physical action and stunts.

Key characteristics of an action thriller:

  1. Fast pace
  2. High-stakes scenarios
  3. Explosive confrontations
  4. Resourceful heroes
  5. Villains with significant firepower

Famous action thriller examples:

  1. Jack Reacher series by Lee Child – A former military police officer takes justice into his own hands.
  2. The Bourne Identity by Robert Ludlum – A man with amnesia discovers he’s an assassin. This is similar to the spy thriller in the next subgenre.
  3. Movie: “Die Hard” – A cop fights terrorists in a high-rise building.

Who should write an action thriller?

If you’re adept at crafting intense action sequences and enjoy rapid storytelling, this subgenre suits your writing style.

Spy thriller

What is a spy thriller?

Spy thrillers revolve around espionage and covert activities.

Key characteristics of a spy thriller:

  1. Political intrigue
  2. Undercover operations
  3. Surveillance
  4. Moral quandaries
  5. Global stakes

Famous spy thriller examples:

  1. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John le Carré – A retired spy uncovers a mole in the intelligence agency.
  2. The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth – An assassin is hired to eliminate Charles de Gaulle.
  3. Movie: “Skyfall” – James Bond faces a threat from within MI6.

Who should write a spy thriller?

If you’re intrigued by geopolitics, covert operations, and high-stakes global scenarios, this subgenre offers an exciting avenue for your writing. A penchant for research will greatly enhance your storytelling.

What is a legal thriller?

Legal thrillers focus on lawyers or courtrooms and often involve a major criminal case.

Key characteristics of a legal thriller:

  1. Legal procedures
  2. Moral dilemmas
  3. High-stakes trials
  4. Lawyer as the protagonist
  5. Legal jargon

Famous legal thriller examples:

  1. A Time to Kill by John Grisham – A young lawyer defends a black man accused of killing two white men.
  2. Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow – A prosecutor is accused of murdering his colleague.
  3. Movie: “A Few Good Men” – Navy lawyers defend Marines accused of murder.

Who should write a legal thriller?

If you have a background in law or a strong interest in legal issues and ethics, this is a great fit. Detail-oriented writers will excel here.

Political thriller

What is a political thriller?

Political thrillers involve the complex world of political maneuvering, and can feature politicians, or those trying to expose them.

Key characteristics of a political thriller:

  1. Political corruption
  2. Power plays
  3. Government secrets
  4. Revolutions or coups
  5. Public vs. private personas

Famous political thriller examples:

  1. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren – A journalist becomes entangled in a corrupt political landscape.
  2. House of Cards by Michael Dobbs – A politician maneuvers his way to the top, at any cost.
  3. Movie: “The Manchurian Candidate” – A soldier is brainwashed to assassinate a political candidate.

Who should write a political thriller?

If you have a grasp on political systems and enjoy dissecting power dynamics, this is your turf. Writers with strong opinions on governance will find a home here.

Medical thriller

What is a medical thriller?

Medical thrillers focus on medical professionals, diseases, or medical ethics.

Key characteristics of a medical thriller:

  1. Medical jargon
  2. Ethical dilemmas
  3. Scientific research
  4. Epidemics or pandemics
  5. Hospital settings

Famous medical thriller examples:

  1. Coma by Robin Cook – Patients mysteriously go into comas during routine surgeries.
  2. The Andromeda Strain by Michael Crichton – Scientists rush to contain a deadly extraterrestrial microbe.
  3. Movie: “Contagion” – The global spread of a virus and the race to find a cure. If this reminded you a bit of the recent pandemic, you’re not alone.

Who should write a medical thriller?

If you have a medical background or are passionate about medical ethics or diseases, you’ll excel in this subgenre. Doing research for this type of book is crucial.


What is a techno-thriller?

Techno-thrillers combine the action of thrillers with complex technological elements.

Key characteristics of a techno-thriller:

  1. Advanced technology
  2. Cybersecurity
  3. Hacking
  4. Futuristic settings
  5. Ethical implications of technology

Famous techno-thriller examples:

  1. Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson – A computer virus threatens to infect human minds.
  2. Neuromancer by William Gibson – A washed-up computer hacker is hired for a heist against a powerful AI.
  3. Movie: “The Matrix” – A computer hacker discovers his world is a simulated reality.

Who should write a techno-thriller?

If you’re tech-savvy and intrigued by the implications of emerging technologies, this is your subgenre. A strong grasp of technological concepts is beneficial.

Next Step

Now you know a few different types of thriller genre subgenres.

If you’re looking to write your thriller novel, check out the free resource below to get a jumpstart.

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