by Damyanti Biswas

Readers pick up thrillers craving escape, in order to be absolutely transported for a while. What better way than an international/ foreign setting, where literally everything is different from a reader’s daily, humdrum life?

This is where international thrillers come in. Here are five quick tips to make them work:

Killer concept, with local colour

Like with any thriller, you need a killer concept to go with your international setting, but make it such that it can happen at no other location. Pick up the icons of that place and make them part of the plot—a monument could be in danger of being blown up, or a clue is left at a particular spot that is immediately recognisable as part of the country.

Get the setting details right

If your novel is set in Paris, for instance, and you have a scene at the Eiffel tower, put in some research and get the details right, whether it is the people who hawk miniature Eiffels, the buskers who sing, or what it feels like inside the lift going up. The right details convince the reader they’re actually at that place at that time, and help them suspend disbelief—right where you want them.

Research local culture

In an international setting, you might have to know a bit more about the people where your novel is set. If your protagonist belongs to a different culture, study some of the local language and slang, and find a way to add traces of it in your narrative. As in all thrillers, less is more, but a local costume at a cultural festival can add the appeal of vividness and colour to your narrative.

Take the help of sensitivity reader

When writing about a culture with which you’re not very familiar and in case of existing cultural hierarchies, it is often a great idea to have someone help steer you away from any potential pitfalls, like one-dimensional portraits and clichés. Sensitivity readers can help you avoid bias, potentially harmful content, and false information or inaccuracies.

Strike a balance between a neutral tone, and erasure

When writing an international thriller, it is easy to err and make the local flavour too strong, or so light as to erase it. In order for a thriller to have an international audience, the tone needs to be neutral and accessible, but there must be enough authentic local flavour for the reader to actually be removed from their reality and join you in the one you have created. Balance is key.

Writing a thriller in an international setting can seem daunting, but with the right amount of research, help in negotiating sensitivities and a balanced use of local colour in the narrative, it is possible to create an international page-turner that would appeal to a wide audience—the hallmark of a true international bestseller.

Are you setting your story in a country that’s not where you live? What questions do you have? What techniques do you use? Let’s talk about it on the Career Authors Facebook page.


Damyanti Biswas lives in Singapore, and supports Delhi’s underprivileged women and children,volunteering with organisations who work for this cause. Her short stories have been published in magazines in the US, UK, and Asia, and she helps edit the Forge Literary Magazine. You can find her on her blog. Her newest thriller is YOU BENEATH YOUR SKIN, recently optioned for TV by Endemol Shine. All the author proceeds from You Beneath Your Skin will support the education and empowerment of women at Project WHY and Stop Acid Attacks.

She also sends out monthly newsletters with book recommendations and writing resources, which you can grab here.