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How to Write a Damn Good Thriller: A Step-by-Step Guide for Novelists and Screenwriters
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How to Write a Damn Good Thriller: A Step-by-Step Guide for Novelists and Screenwriters

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  231 ratings  ·  46 reviews
A quick look at any fiction bestseller list reveals that thrillers make up most of the titles at the top. HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD THRILLER will help the aspiring novelist or screenwriter to design, draft, write, and polish a thriller that is sure to grab readers. Frey uses examples from both books and movies and addresses the following hot topics:
*Germinal ideas
Hardcover, 306 pages
Published March 30th 2010 by St. Martin's Press (first published 2010)
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3.90  · 
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 ·  231 ratings  ·  46 reviews

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Jul 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
I have studied a lot about writing, read umpteen books on it, but never specifically to my genre. When James Frey's book How to Write a D*** Good Thriller (St. Martin's Press 2010) came out, I grabbed it. What's the first thing I learned? I have been making a lot of mistakes. The next thing I learned was how to fix them. Thankfully, he promised that doing this was 'not brain surgery'.

In this book, Frey reviews first novel writing in general, then thriller in detail. The way thrillers are plotted
Kelly H. (Maybedog)
This was terrible, so far the worst book on writing that I've read. I have tons of notes but I'm too irritated right now to write a full review. Suffice to say that when he gave this example, I lost all respect for the book as a useful tool:

He gave an example of his writing where in the middle, without any warning or any text separation or section change, he jumped heads from one POV to another. He pointed out how he did this and how useful it was. This is a BIG no-no and should never be used by
Chris Bauer
Aug 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
As a ravenous reader of thrillers I've always been drawn to the genre. But had no idea how or even whether to try crafting such a novel.

James N. Frey provides comprehensive guidance on getting started. I'm a fan of his other works and this one is no exception. I was most impressed by the pragmatic advice and guidance in the pages. The differences between thriller and mystery are subtle yet tell-tale. Once that lightbulb went off over my head, it all fell into place.

Great advice, excellent method
Jul 24, 2018 rated it liked it
I took my time reading this one and took extensive notes since I have decided to write in the thriller genre. There were a lot of great tips on writing in this genre. The reason I gave this book three stars, however, is because I don't see a whole lot of thrillers written by him. The ones that he has written don't have very many reviews and don't have very high ratings. Nonetheless, I will be using all of the things I learned in this book in my writing.
Jan 26, 2017 rated it liked it
This is an eye-opening book for would-be thriller writers. Frey defines a thriller as the story of a clever hero on an impossible mission to foil evil. This isn't a perfect definition, but it's a damn good one. Once you have the definition down--and he gives about 500 examples to support his argument--you may identify some gaps in your own thriller projects and manuscripts.

There are some weaknesses to the book. There are several examples of how different made-up thriller stories could be develop
Dec 09, 2017 rated it liked it
I picked up this book because I've been kicking around the idea of writing in this genre. The information that actually dealt with how to develop an idea and plot a thriller was useful. Unfortunately, most of the book is taken up by endless examples of synopses of either books/movies in the genre or a series of made-up plots. I skimmed through all of them after the first few pages because they were very boring and tedious. Ultimately, I did find some nuggets of interesting information here, but ...more
Debra Daniels-zeller
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing, nonfiction
Another great inspiring read about writing fiction from James N. Frey, this book covers some of what his books How to Write a Damn Good Novel, both 1 and 2 and goes into depth about creating villians and the secrets of clever plotting. I never read one of Frey's books without learning something new and he doesn't beat around the bushes, but enlightens readers about story and character development. In this book I loved the flawed thriller hero and how to dream the fictive dream. I also appreciate ...more
I have to acknowledge there was some good advice, but Mr. Frey came across so arrogant and rude that it was unpleasant to read. I was having trouble finishing so I came to Goodreads to see what other people thought and after reading the GOOD reviews, I happily close the book.

I've read about writing as told by Stephen King, Terry Brooks, Diana Gabaldon, Neil Gaiman, and Ursula K. LeGuin and when these writers (with names known to many more millions than Mr. Frey) talk about THEIR writing process
Glen Engel-Cox
Feb 26, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing, non-fiction
I started reading this book over a year ago when I had completed the rough draft of my second novel but wasn't happy with the ending. I had envisioned my new book as a type of murder mystery that was less of a ‘whodunit’ and more of a ‘will-he-get-away-with- it. I had written the nearly 60,000 words over the course of November 2016 as part of National Novel Writing Month and knew as I was writing it that I would need to tighten it up, but wasn’t quite sure how to go about it when I stopped. Half ...more
Farquar McSpadden
Mostly a lazy effort from Frey, who has a good brand "How to Write a Damn Good [XYZ]." Little care is taken to give examples of actual, current-day thrillers. Far too much time is spent on his own dopey writing examples. I get it: Including original fiction avoids copyright issues. But the examples are so un-thriller-like, mundane, and jokey. I feel like Frey thought he could extrude another "Damn Good" book without paying much attention to the genre itself. Give it the one-evening's attention i ...more
Jennifer Harper
Sep 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Frey works through several story ideas to show you how it's done, but lost me when he said he went to Israel to do research for the one story he chose to use as his example. Great idea, but not a lot of use aspiring writers can afford to pop overseas, so that leaves Google and the library.
Many years ago I read Frey's How to Write a Damn Good Novel, which I found inspiring and practical. Many of the same principles are reiterated in this book. I might just try to write a damn good thriller!
Terry Heath
Mar 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great tips

Great tips for building a thriller. The examples from Frey’s writing were good for illustration, but perhaps acted a bit like padding as well. Either way, this is a book I’ll study and use frequently.
Gisele Thomson
Dec 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: write-fiction
Helpful to better understand writing thriller genre

Enjoyed reading. Helpful. Practical. A lot of good ideas. I loved how he walks the reader through samples within different approaches of the genre.
Jul 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I took notes.
Margo Kelly
Feb 13, 2014 rated it liked it
This is a good book for authors to add to their arsenal of writing tools.

While there were some EXCELLENT sections in this book, there were also a LOT of pages of information that were not helpful to me at all. However, the significance of the great sections outweighed the disappointment of the weak sections, and so overall I'm still glad that I invested the time and money into this book.

The excellent sections included:
* How to create a villain
* Exploiting the dark mission of the villain
* The plo
Robert Graves
I read this because I am working on my first thriller (my previous novels include two mysteries and one science-fantasy horror), and I found several of Frey's other books useful (THE KEY, HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD MYSTERY, and HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD NOVEL II). Like those guides, this one offers some useful strategies for thinking about your project along with some good reminders about the basics of the craft of fiction. However, I would rank this book a step or two below the other three mention ...more
Jacqui Jacoby
May 08, 2016 rated it liked it
I have loved all of James Frey's writing books and recommend them to people. This one, though, which was a lot thicker and that seemed odd. The thickness was due to the monumental, page-after-page recounting of "how this thriller was written"; or how that thriller was written." And they were well known books, but I didn't buy this book to read synopsis, thriller or not, of so many books.

The information I did find was invaluable and I grateful for it. However, all the info I needed was found in
Smilla's Sister
Jul 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The only thing I normally don't like about Frey's excellent books is that he comes up with imaginary "novels" he uses as examples to illustrate his points. But in this particular book, even they didn't distract me from enjoying his teachings. In this book, Frey is at his best, showing the priority of emotional connection for successful reading experience. I personally find Frey's books extremely helpful, together with those by Donald Maass, McKey's Story and the writing manual to end all writing ...more
Janett Wawrzyniak
Jan 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
Presenting the map for thriller novel writing is given in examples of sequence. The main ingredient of a thriller is pulse-pounding suspense. The quality of fiction that makes the reader want to turn the pages to see what's going to happen next, is suspense. In a thriller the hero has a mission to foil evil. With types of thriller examples given, this book is informative for rise and falling tension placement. References and many examples are given to build story structure. This book is inspirin ...more
Jul 09, 2011 rated it liked it
Another solid offering from writing-coach extraordinaire James N. Frey. (Not to be confused with the other James Frey, of Oprah fame.) Some of Frey's titles, if you read more than one, start to overlap a bit, but for me that's just a minor criticism, since the advice is usually sound. And his own writing is conversational and direct, which makes them easy to read. This particular title isn't my favorite, but I'm sure it'll be right there beside me when I start working on my next blockbuster.
Feb 18, 2012 rated it it was ok
Picked this up on a whim and it became my fall asleep book for many months. I think I really wanted to know what made people like to read thrillers.

Mr. Frey's advice isn't anything you won't find anywhere else, but at least he has the common decency to not tell people to cut description ala Elmore Leonard or James Patterson.

The cannon of novels and screenplays he draws examples from were refreshingly diverse, all minor classics in there own right, and some even from the 19th century.

That being
Ally Shields
Oct 04, 2011 rated it really liked it
I haven't read his previous books for writers, so I wasn't bothered by redundancy as other reviewers have mentioned. I found his thriller guide to be a great review of things I knew, a source of ploting and pacing devices that weren't so familiar, and a very clear delineation of the thriller genre, complete with many examples. A recommended tool for writers new to the genre or needing to improve their skills.
Michael Mc Donnell
Jul 12, 2013 rated it liked it
Soom good advice obfuscated by unhelpful biased personal opinion and page after page of useless examples which failed to express the values the author expoused or demonstrate the lessons he was trying to teach. Also a large amount of material rehashed (or straight up cut and pasted) from his earlier books. This was better than his book on mysteries, possibly because he used more film examples which meant the book wasnt unnecessarily padded with his own prose.
Mars Dorian
Jul 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Solid book with solid advice, but I find his personal thriller examples anything but thrilling.
I also wished it was more in-depth, since creating thrill is all about knowing human psychology and applying it.

It's an ok read if you have access to it, but it's no 'must' read. You can find better work.

M.L. Tishner
Oct 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Of course this it the third book of Frey's that I have read in a row. I still find his voice amusing and sagely. He gets you through the important yet boring how to's of writing without actually being boring.

For anyone wanting a little advice on writing a thriller or even a novel with thriller elements in it: I recommend this book.
Jun 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Frey writes well, and I liked the story he wrote as an example. Overall it was ok, but the way he bashed the traditional 3 act structure left a sour taste in my mouth. I think he should've left all that out, since it was evident he had no glue what he was talking about. Otherwise his book was pretty solid.
Jordan McCollum
Jun 25, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Solid, and a good addition to his other works. While it's always helpful to see theory in action in developing a story, it did seem like there was a little too much focus on the example story.

Still, good advice, and it inspired me to get back to my thriller in progress, even if I still don't quite know how to fix it.
Sep 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
This book is very good at providing step by step instructions and examples on the more abstract concepts for writing not only thrillers, but all novels. The examples from well known books and movies can be a bit daunting to get through, but the examples created within the book from idea to detailed, completed outlines are well worth the read.
Aug 29, 2014 rated it liked it
I liked the structure discussions in this book, and the stuff on crafting an outline, but the examples were nonsense and the things he was pointing out with them didn't seem to be there on some occasions. I got the feeling he cranked this and his other writing books out pretty fast. Still pretty useful to a newbie. I'm just not one.
Shane Cooper
Feb 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
While it's a build upon his previous work, "How to write a damn good novel", it includes additional food for thought regarding the thriller genre. If you're an author, wanna-be or future author interested in writing this genre, this is a must have.
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“So far, we’ve discussed how you start with a germinal idea and what makes a good one; then we discussed the villain profile and how to create a villain with a dark mission, who will take actions to get what he wants. These actions are the plot behind the plot. The hero’s job in a thriller, remember, is to foil evil. The villain’s plot behind the plot is the evil the hero must foil. These actions the hero and others take to counter the plot behind the plot make up the plot of your thriller. Simple, no?” 0 likes
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