How to Find Thriller Story Ideas: Genre Inspiration

Posted on Sep 15, 2023

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Written by P.J McNulty

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Thrillers captivate readers by offering a cocktail of suspense, tension, and surprise.

If you’re aiming to pen the next big thriller, finding the right inspiration is crucial.

This article will guide you through various techniques and sources that can help you find the compelling ideas that make for an unputdownable thriller.

What is the thriller genre?

Let’s begin by taking a look at the core elements of the thriller genre.

What are the core elements of a thriller story?

1. Suspense: The backbone of any thriller, suspense keeps the reader on the edge of their seat, eager to know what happens next.

2. Tension: It’s the emotional strain and stress that keeps readers invested in the outcome, forcing them to turn pages.

3. Surprise: Effective use of twists and surprises ensures the reader never feels too comfortable, maintaining intrigue.

4. Conflict: The struggle between opposing forces, often good versus evil, is a driving force that propels the plot forward.

5. Pacing: A well-calibrated pace ensures the story doesn’t drag or rush, allowing for crescendos of action or moments of revelation.

What are popular subgenres of thriller fiction?

Sometimes, it’s worth exploring ideas for fiction. by considering popular subgenres.

Here are some of the most popular options for thriller writers:

1. Psychological Thriller: Explores the complexities of the human mind and how they can become twisted or corrupted.

2. Crime Thriller: Focuses on the solving of a crime, often from the perspective of law enforcement officers.

3. Techno-Thriller: Incorporates technology as a key element, and often delves into themes like cyber warfare or espionage.

4. Legal Thriller: Centers around the intricacies of legal proceedings, often with a courtroom setting.

5. Spy Thriller: Deals with international espionage and covert operations, often involving government agents.

6. Supernatural Thriller: Introduces elements of the paranormal or fantastical to heighten the suspense.

7. Medical Thriller: Explores medical phenomena or crises, often involving the race against time to prevent a catastrophe.

What are the characteristics of successful thrillers?

Rather than hunting for thriller story ideas blindly, it’s useful to think of them in terms of the characteristics thriller readers are looking for when they choose a new book.

Here are some of the most important:

1. Strong Characters: Well-developed characters make the story relatable and compelling, providing the reader with someone to root for.

2. High-Stakes Scenarios: The plot often involves life-and-death situations or catastrophic consequences to keep the tension high.

3. Twists and Turns: The best thrillers are unpredictable, incorporating unexpected plot twists that defy reader expectations.

4. Authenticity: Accuracy in details, whether it’s the setting, procedures, or character professions, lends credibility to the story.

5. Emotional Resonance: The story should connect emotionally with the reader, making them deeply invested in the outcome.

6. Effective Dialogue: Sharp and purposeful dialogue can add layers to characters and propel the plot efficiently.

7. Clever Foreshadowing: Subtle hints or clues that are only fully understood later can enrich the reading experience and build suspense.

How to use your existing knowledge to inspire a thriller story

Drawing from your own life and interests can serve as a powerful starting point for your thriller.

Here are three ways to do exactly that:

1. Personal Experiences: Real-life experiences can offer authentic details that breathe life into your thriller. Whether it’s a setting you’re familiar with or an emotional situation you’ve endured, these experiences can add depth and credibility to your narrative.

2. Existing Interests: Hobbies, passions, or subjects you’re already interested in can be rich fodder for a thriller.

Whether you’re into cyber-security, history, or psychology, leveraging your existing knowledge not only makes the writing process enjoyable but also ensures a level of authenticity that readers appreciate.

3. Expertise: Your professional or academic background can serve as an invaluable asset in crafting a thriller.

A lawyer could write a convincing legal thriller, while a medical professional could venture into the realm of medical thrillers.

Using what you already know gives you a strong foundation upon which to build your thriller story.

How to find external inspiration for a thriller story idea

Sometimes, the spark for a great thriller comes from the world around us—be it current events, existing media, or historical occurrences.

Here are four ways to find a thriller story idea from the world around you:

1. News and Current Events

Real-world situations often provide the most compelling inspirations for thrillers.

High-profile criminal cases, political scandals, or international crises can serve as a launching pad for your story.

These situations come with built-in stakes and public interest, which can help hook readers from the outset.

2. Literature and Existing Media

Existing works of fiction and film can serve as inspiration, but tread carefully to avoid plagiarism.

Analyze what makes them effective: is it the character dynamics, the pacing, or the plot twists?

Use these insights as a springboard for your own original concepts.

3. History and Mythology

Past events and myths offer a wealth of material for a thriller.

From historical conspiracies to legendary creatures, these can add an extra layer of intrigue or complexity to your story.

Importantly, historical or mythological settings can also offer unique constraints and opportunities for your characters to navigate.

4. True Crime Stories and Documentaries

The allure of true crime lies in its basis in reality, and incorporating such elements into your thriller can make it eerily believable.

Whether it’s a famous heist or a lesser-known crime spree, these real-life stories provide not only plot ideas but also insights into criminal motives and investigative processes.

Techniques to assist your thriller story idea brainstorm

While external sources offer ample material, sometimes the inspiration for a gripping thriller comes from within, facilitated by specific techniques.

Here are four powerful techniques to help you find an idea for your next thriller story.

1. Mind Mapping

This visual tool allows you to organize your thoughts around a central idea, helping you to see connections that might not be immediately obvious.

Mind mapping can assist in plotting out complex storylines or character relationships in a way that’s easy to understand and modify.

2. Free Writing

This exercise involves writing non-stop for a set period, allowing thoughts to flow without judgment.

The aim is to bypass your internal editor and let your subconscious ideas surface.

You may stumble upon a gem of an idea that can serve as the kernel for your thriller.

3. Dream Journaling

Our subconscious minds are fertile ground for ideas that can be wild, surreal, or downright terrifying.

Keeping a dream journal can help you capture these thoughts upon waking.

Even if the dreams themselves aren’t directly usable, elements from them might spark the inspiration you need.

4. Asking the Right Questions

Sometimes, asking yourself pointed questions can spur creative thought.

Questions like “What’s the worst that could happen?” or “What’s the mystery that needs solving?” can guide your mind towards intriguing premises that demand to be explored in thriller format.

How to mix and match different methods of finding a thriller story idea

Sometimes the most gripping thrillers come from a blend of different inspirations and elements.

Here are two tips on doing so effectively.

1. Combining Elements from Different Sources

A unique and compelling thriller often results from mixing elements from different genres, themes, or real-life events.

For instance, you could combine a historical event with a modern-day dilemma, or intertwine a crime thriller with supernatural elements.

This fusion not only enriches your storyline but also provides unexpected twists that can captivate your readers.

2. Ensuring a Natural Combination

When mixing and matching, the key is to make sure the elements blend seamlessly.

Inconsistencies or forced fusions can jar the reader out of the experience.

Focus on the underlying themes or emotions that tie the disparate elements together. This creates a cohesive story that still surprises and engages.

How to test your thriller story ideas

Once you have your inspiration and elements in place, it’s important to vet them for feasibility and impact.

Here are three proven techniques to help validate your thriller story idea before you commit to writing it in full.

1. Peer Review

Solicit feedback from trusted peers who understand the thriller genre.

Their insights can help you identify strengths and weaknesses in your concept. Moreover, they may offer suggestions for improvements that you hadn’t considered, strengthening your overall story.

2. Focus Groups

Sometimes, a more formal review is beneficial.

A focus group comprising of genre enthusiasts can provide targeted feedback.

It’s a controlled environment where you can gauge reactions to your story elements, and adjust based on what most resonates with your intended audience.

3. Self-Evaluation

Sometimes the most critical eye is your own.

Take time to step back and objectively evaluate your story ideas. Consider whether the stakes are high enough, the characters are compelling, and if the plot holds water.

A rigorous self-review can often preempt issues that readers might flag later.

How to overcome writer’s block when developing your thriller fiction idea

Writer’s block can stifle even the most inspired thriller ideas, so it’s important to know how to break through the barrier.

1. Take Breaks

Stepping away from your work can offer a fresh perspective. A brief hiatus allows your brain to relax and often leads to unexpected bursts of inspiration.

2. Change of Scenery

A different environment can stimulate your senses and lead to new ideas. Sometimes a simple change like working in a coffee shop instead of your home office can make all the difference.

3. Speak Your Ideas

Articulating your thoughts aloud can help solidify them and make the abstract more concrete. This can be especially helpful when you’re stuck on a specific plot point or character dilemma.

Are you ready to find your own thriller story idea?

You now have a toolkit of techniques and approaches to find inspiration for your next thriller.

But inspiration alone won’t write the book. It’s time to put these strategies into practice, meld them with your creativity, and pen that thrilling story that’s been brewing in your mind.

Take the leap, start writing, and let the thrills unfold.

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