by Wendy Walker

There is no way around it – in the world of the twisty, fast-paced, psychological thriller, plot is everything.

Most thriller writers start with one of three elements: a premise, a beginning, or an ending.

My first thriller, All Is Not Forgotten, was built on a premise – what is the fallout when the survivor of a brutal crime is given a drug to erase her memory? My second, Emma In The Night, had a beginning – two sisters disappear one night and three years later only one comes back.

If you are writing a psychological thriller, it is very likely you have one of these three elements as well.

But where do you go from there? How to write a psychological thriller that keeps your readers turning the pages? Here are some suggestions:

If you have an ending, you are home free

Everything else in the book should be built around that ending – the characters, the conflicts and the events that leave clues. Ask yourself questions:

  • Why would she do that?
  • Why would he be there?
  • Why wouldn’t they do something else?

The answers to these questions, and others like them, will become the bones of your plot.

If you have a beginning, get an ending

Thrillers today must have a twist. There are a number of ways to get there. With Emma In The Night, I wrote down the names of characters with arrows pointing in different directions. I asked myself question after question – each one beginning with what if.

Then – hardest of all – I let go of my attachment to every character and plot line and asked if they were helping or hindering.

Finding your ending is a watershed moment in developing the rest of your plot. And while there is no easy way to get there, take comfort in knowing that once you have it, you will have your book!

 If you have a premise, follow the paths that radiate from its core

With All Is Not Forgotten, I considered every possible outcome for my young survivor and her family. I then chose story components for each of them. I drew diagrams, wrote scenes on index cards, then put it all together like a puzzle.

In some ways, starting with a premise is a gift – there are countless possibilities for the rest of the plot. In other ways, having options can make you crazy! If it does, go back to the premise, to its core, and follow the path that causes the greatest emotional conflict for your characters. That conflict will drive your plot.

As long as there is an ending that brings some closure, your readers will be satisfied. More importantly, they will be compelled to turn the last page because of the emotional pull you have created with your premise.

Don’t despair. Don’t give up. Just like there is a lid for every pot, there is a plot for every book. It’s just waiting to be found!

Are you writing a psychological thriller? Tell us how you do it – or ask us some questions – on the Career Authors Facebook page.


Wendy Walker at Career Authors

psychological thriller: Emma in the Night

Wendy Walker is the author of the thriller, Emma In The Night. Her first thriller, All Is Not Forgotten, was a national and international bestseller with rights sold in twenty-two languages. Wendy previously published two novels and edited multiple compilations for the Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Prior to her writing career, Wendy practiced family law, having earned her J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and her undergraduate degree from Brown University. Wendy also worked as a financial analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co. Wendy is currently finishing her third thriller and managing a busy household in Fairfield County, Connecticut where she lives with her three sons.




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