Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Writing Great Thrillers...A guest post.

 "Grace is a spunky, independent, nature girl who doesn't need a boy to save her. With wilderness survival, a juicy love triangle, and more twists and turns than a roller coaster, this fast-paced novel had me holding my breath until the very last page—and still begging for more!" 
-Kimberly Derting, author of the The Body Finder

"This thrilling story is a dramatic entanglement of mystery, deception and teen romance. The action flows like a brisk mountain stream interspersed with rapids, holding suspense to last page."
- Kirkus Reviews

Shelli Johannes-Wells author of Untraceable talks about Writing Great Thrillers.

Thrillers are divided into so many sub categories, action thrillers, psychological thrillers, military thrillers, spy thrillers, sci-fi thrillers, and romantic thrillers and on and on. Honestly, it is endless.

What they have in common is a great deal of action, cinematic setting, and a point of life or death that is based on reality.

A thriller that is not a page-turner is really just a mystery to me. It has to keep you moving forward even when you want to put it down. I have read all of James Patterson’s work and I’ve studied his interviews. He writes on an inverted curve – or at least he did with the Alex Cross series. That is how I write. So, my climaxes are at the end of a chapter and my resolution is at the beginning of the next chapter. I purposely cut my book that way when I am done writing it. It is second nature for humans to seek resolution so having the climax at the end of a chapter - pulls you through the chapter break – at least I hope it does.

In a thriller you also have to keep the tension all the way through. You can do this through dialogue, action, inner monologue but it has to keep the reader engaged. To keep the tension - I think you need to write what no one expects. That keeps the tension in your story. I try to do that. I write all the ways I can go and then purposely pick the most realistic, yet most unexpected way, which is usually the most devastating. To be honest – I usually choose a route that I personally don’t prefer. That way I ensure the struggle and tension remains. Because I am on the edge of my seat, knowing what’s coming. But, a thriller HAS to have twists and turns to keep the readers along.

There is a rule of thumb with thriller writers – that every 6 pages, something should turn. I try to do that. Any longer and you are bored, any shorter and your reader is crazed and exhausted.

Another aspect – which I read in an Ian Fleming interview about thrillers – is that you have to find that narrow line between what is real and what isn’t. Between what could or couldn’t really happen. A thriller is a story that walks along that line so you get sucked in because you can imagine everything that is going on. It feels real. This could really happen. That is why I like to write contemporary thrillers. It is based in reality and it really goes on.

In other thrillers – the events are created from an imagination but I feel like the reader is slightly removed b/c they know that could never happen. Ever watch a movie and then something dumb happens, which makes you sit back and uninvest in a story. Like in Mission Impossible when the helicopter explodes and Tom Cruise jumps from the helicopter onto a moving train. Can’t happen. They had the tension because of you didn’t want the secret list to get out. But after that scene, the story – at least for me - lost its tension because it was no longer real.

Thrillers have to capture the reader by the neck and grip them until the very last page. You have to make sure the reader is satisfied – gets some resolution but yet leave some strings dangling to keep the tension for the future.

These are the aspects of thrillers I find essential.  It works for me so I hope it works for those who read Untraceable.

Author Bio:

Shelli Johannes-Wells started out writing for her local school paper, winning a state Nutrition essay contest for “Be a Smart Cookie”, and singing in a local Jazz band. Somewhere along the way, she earned an MBA in Marketing and embarked on an 18-year marketing career in Corporate America working as a marketing and communications consultant.

In 2000, Shelli traded in her expensive suits, way-too high heels, and corporate lingo for a family, flip-flops, and her love of writing. She started her own marketing & communications business,, and continues creating materials for a variety of large profit and nonprofit clients, including Spanx, Goody Hair Products, Chick Filet, Delta, CARE, and the Boys & Girls Club of America.

Shelli’s dream is to publish children’s books and magically imprint the imaginations of kids. In addition to juggling nap schedules while attending client meetings, Shelli focuses on her writing. She is a frequent marketing speaker at SCBWI conferences across the U.S and runs a popular marketing blog, Market My Words 
where she provides marketing advice for authors in the hopes of helping them better market their words.

 In her spare time (yeah right!) and if the kids allow (yeah right!), Shelli obsesses over movies, reads children’s books (over and over), wishes she could squeeze in Bikram Yoga sessions, and dreams of sleeping in on the weekends.

 She currently lives in Atlanta with her dog, British-accented husband, and the huge imaginations of their little prince and princess that someday will change the world.

For the complete blog tour go here .
For my review of Untraceable go here. 

You can find Shelli at...



  1. I don't read a lot of thrillers, but I do enjoy suspense. She's right about having them be realistic. If they aren't, they lose me. Excellent interview!

  2. Wow - something has to turn every six pages. That takes talent. I don't read thrillers, but I'm reading a suspense right now - another genre I don't read a lot of - but I'm liking it.

  3. great post! i can always use some thriller pointers!

  4. Fun post :) I don't know how many times I'll be watching a movie and just roll my eyes at something they did--totally loses me every time!

  5. I enjoy reading thrillers. Haven't attempted to write one yet ... just small spurts. Thanks for sharing this great information, Shelli.

  6. GREAT post! Can't wait to read your book, Shelli!

  7. This is a great post! I love thrillers!! :) New book to add to my must be read list!

  8. Thanks for the contrast between mysteries and thrillers. Now I get the difference. I do enjoy reading both equally, I must say. Also, I'd like to try my hand in both.

  9. Thanks for your comments. I like thrillers too, but, I, um, also like the fantastical. So long as I care about the characters, I'm so there.

  10. Thanks everyone - just stopped in to say hi :)


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