Goodreads Blog

Writing Tips from Mystery and Thriller Writers

Posted by Cynthia on May 1, 2017
Readers love asking their favorite authors questions, especially when it comes to advice about writing! As we celebrate Mystery Week on Goodreads, get inspired by some of these bestselling mystery and thriller authors. Don’t be afraid to ask any of these Featured Authors for their tips about writing, and make sure your own Ask the Author is enabled from your Goodreads Author Dashboard and you answer the question, "What mystery in your own life could be a plot for a book?"

Dan Brown, author of The DaVinci Code


“Rather than outlining your plot in chronological order, try outlining your plot as if it were a candle burning at both ends. Begin the process by writing your first and last chapter simultaneously. It may be helpful to make the protagonist’s circumstances in these two chapters as different from one another as possible. This will require your character to undergo a series of changes between the beginning and end...changes that can serve as pillars on which to construct the middle of the book.”

Mary Higgins Clark, author of Where Are the Children?


“The advice would be to everyone who wants to write: start it. But specifically, if you want to be a suspense writer, something I did that was extremely helpful may work for you. I wanted to see how Daphne Du Maurier was able to give the suspense to Rebecca that made that book a classic. I wrote the first paragraph and the last paragraph of every chapter and did a synopsis of what went in that chapter. It was a wonderful way to see how she built suspense in such a subtle manner.”

Linwood Barclay, author of No Time for Goodbye


“I think that what drives a thriller need to be something that matters, like a family member. It needs to have a sense of momentum, that the story is like a boulder rolling down a hill, picking up speed with each chapter. And, as much as possible, a little twist, or something, at the end of every chapter to make you want to go on to the next one. If I get at all bored while writing the story, I know the reader will be bored, too. I have to keep myself interested.”

Tana French, author of In the Woods


“When you write psychological crime, you spend a lot of time thinking about *why* this specific character would commit such an immense crime as murder - and the answer is often (not always) rooted deeply not only in the individual character, but in the flaws and priorities of the society around him or her.”

Joseph Finder, author of Vanished


“Inspiration comes from different sources at different points in the process. When I'm just starting a book, thinking about the main character and the premise, inspiration really can come from anywhere: the news, conversations I overhear between strangers, magazine ads, other books I'm reading. When I'm in the midst of writing, inspiration may take more of a problem-solving mode: if x happens, what then? If y, then what? I will often find images in magazines or online that resonate with the story I'm writing — something that gives me an idea of what Nick Heller's DC loft looked like, or the resort in Power Play, or the hideout in Buried Secrets. A writer's magic words are, "I can use this."”

Jacqueline Winspear, author of Maisie Dobbs


“I don't see why a work of mystery or any other "genre" fiction should not be literary. Some of the best, most intelligent, literary writing today is coming from writers in what people term "the mystery genre" - and it's in mystery that readers are exposed to fiction dealing with the sharp end of societal problems, historical events, etc. The fact that a mystery takes the reader through chaos to some sort of resolution speaks to the human condition - through the lens of mystery we see humanity at its best and worst.”



What advice resonates the most with you? Share your thoughts and your own advice in the comments below. Then check out what else authors can do to make the most of Mystery Week.

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by Wendy (new)

Wendy Walker I love all of these insights! Working on my third psychological thriller, I am finding myself adding in new twists to each chapter and then having to build more plot around them. It is a departure from my usual strategy of having every detail plotted out first. It is really pushing me to explore the characters and allow myself to become attached to them in ways I did not anticipate. It's so helpful to hear the different techniques writers use!


message 2: by John (new)

John Pellow Very fantastic and well written post.Its extremely good and very helpful for me.Thanks for sharing.
John Pellow Brisbane


message 3: by Brian (new)

Brian Suiter The Recusants - Amazon Kindle Store. Give it a read and let me know you thought, would love to hear them.


message 4: by Stanley (new)

Stanley Thornton So far I've written 5 books....2 non-fiction and I'm 3 books into a dragon series. I just finished writing a novella which is off to copy edit and art work. But I'm still invisible. I've been working it. I've got a page on my website that shows famous people holding my books. I have a video on YouTube of Samewise Gamgee reading from my book. I have a letter from the Pope. My last attempt at marketing was the fact my dragon series takes place mostly in Europe. I released the first book in 2013 and talked about the hero seeing blind cave fish...this year, 2017, they found cave fish for the first time in Europe...I was even within a few miles of where they found them...I thought "I predicted the future!" and I get "eh, no big deal"....I've sold a few copies recently, so maybe I'm getting visible somewhere, but I don't know where to turn next...My dragon keeps telling me I just haven't talked to the right person at the right event yet...but I've told myself that for the past 7 years myself.


message 5: by JohnWick (new)

JohnWick I am very grateful to you for a very interesting article, right now I am working on my first book and will try to integrate your selection of tips into my work. By the way, I adore Dan Brown and his books, and by coincidence, Davinchi Code is my favorite! Although Dan Brown has another one of my favorite books, namely Origin. Well, I fell in love with this author after the book Angels & Demons, I read it from cover to cover even when I worked in coolessay, she hooked me so much that since then I read every book of this author!


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