11.29: Elemental Thriller as a Subgenre

Thrillers are, by their very nature, page-turners. In this episode we look at the thriller element as part of a story whose principal driver is one of the other elemental genres. We consider some examples of blended-with-thrill stories, and then drill down a bit and look at how we can incorporate this in our own work.

Credits: This episode was recorded by Daniel Thompson, and mastered by Alex Jackson. 


Practice your cliffhangers! Experiment with the placement of chapter breaks, new questions, and big reveals, and work on each of these methods as a way to satisfactorily encourage that page turn.

Planetfall by Emma Newman, narrated by Emma Newman

7 thoughts on “11.29: Elemental Thriller as a Subgenre”

  1. Thrills and chills, a potboiler in every story? The frolicsome foursome take a look at adding the spice of thriller to your tales in this episode. Just a dash, or drop in a whole James Bond and shake, don’t stir? Raise the stakes, add a timebomb, and make it personal! Watch the reader turn those pages!

    Go ahead, read all about it in the archives or over here


    And remember, don’t lean too far over the edge of the cliff. You never know who might be standing behind you…

  2. This season rocks! The problem I’m having is that each time you introduce a new element, I want to use it in my novel. Do you think it’s possible to use many of the elemental genres (as in almost all) in one, longer piece of work? Any tips on balancing multiple elements? Any warning against using too much “spice”?

    1. It’s absolutely possible (recommended, even) to use several elemental genres in one work. Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN was Idea, Wonder, Thriller, Humor, and Mystery. Oh, and Adventure.

      Also, one of my all-time favorite books.

  3. Hey everyone,

    Love listening to your podcast. I enjoy it so much that I have to stop making Writing Excuses an excuse…. to put off writing… ;-)

    Anyway, I have more of a reading rather then a writing question. I love reading (another excuse) and as Stephen King says, (among other authors) to be a good writer, you need to be a good reader, so I’m always looking for new suggestions for good books. I’m excited and interested in reading Mary’s pick Planetfall by Emma Newman and I’m wondering if you have other books you love and recommend that if you told them the synopsis or plot it would kinda ruin it and it’s better if people just pick it up and read.

    Rob K

  4. I don’t see why fridging girlfriends is considered a bad trope. I’ve always found it pretty powerful whenever I’ve read moments like that. It’s not like it never happens in real life either. People lose girlfriends, friends, family, etc. in gruesome and tragic ways and seek revenge. What was Pearl Harbor if not this exact thing on a grander scale? Or the Holocaust? So what makes people think it’s a bad trope?

  5. @ W. James

    1. It’s somewhat overdone. The trope is simply too predictable for a lot of people. Your mileage may differ, but for a lot of folks it’s a fairly tired trope that can be spotted a mile off. I’d tend to suspect that the whole plot may be a bit ‘by the numbers’ if it opens with what amounts to being a fairly predictable trope.
    2. It is usually framed with a woman existing solely as plot device to power the man’s motivation to go off and do stuff. Readers get sick of seeing themselves in stories largely or only as one-dimensional plot-drivers.

    It’s probably stretching the bow a bit to take large wartime socio-political events and characterise them as ‘fridging the girlfriend’ on a large scale. Such events are extremely complicated, before and after the event. I’m not convinced that the trope scales up in a straightforward way. I guess I would tend to think of ‘fridging the girlfriend’ as reasonably distinct from the ‘unprovoked military attack/genocide’ trope… that said, ‘unprovoked military attack/genocide’ is also kinda overdone. As before, this is just my opinion… your mileage may differ.

    Anyway, just my thoughts.


  6. Elemental Genre: Slice of Life.

    Because Slice of Life breaks all the rules, but is extremely useful.

    Slice of life often is useful for those relief scenes, where you need the pause in between, but to generate smaller and quieter emotions. Where you aren’t at the edge of your seat, but need time to reflect and pause. It’s the opposite of thriller, but so, so good to help along pacing.

    Because the very nature of slice of life really isn’t the conflict, but the small arcing of character and character realization about their surroundings. It’s also a good way to cut that long, long paragraph from mystery about “OK, let’s rehash everything by info dump” and instead use a scene of reflection and reminding the character what they know and have. It is very useful for making the character realize what they are grateful for and what they are fighting for in those action-filled elemental genres and give a breath of relief.

    The opposite of Thriller in so many ways, but I kinda wish you’d cover it. (Though you’ve recorded the episodes already.)

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