Book Review - The Ingredients Of A Good Thriller by Chris Wood
So awhile back the book The Ingredients Of A Good Thriller by Chris Wood wandered across my desk. It's no surprise that I spend a significant amount of time reading, but often I'm not really analyzing the structure or the makeup of how the story unfolds. I thought it might be interesting to start paying a bit more attention to that aspect of writing, hence the reason for reading this book.
Different Types of Thrillers: Plots; Settings; Crime Scene; A Good Start
Characters: Overview; Sleuth; Sidekick; Villian; Victim; Anti-Hero; Red Herring; Enabler
Showing and Shaping Characters: Showing Character; Making the Goodie Really Good; Making the Baddie Really Bad; Dialogue and Language; What Type of Language?; Comic Relief; Relationship Trouble
Approaches and Details: Atmosphere; Make'em Flinch; How to Make A Kill A Crowd Pleaser; Setpieces; The "Pow" Factor; Milk The Suspense; The Feel of It; Humour Potential; Music That Thrills; Use Reality
Last But Not Least
Don't Give Up!; Recommended Crime Films; Recommended Crime Books; Afterward; Conclusion - The Essentials
On the positive side, Wood does a nice job hitting on all the major elements that would need to be present in a thriller. You obviously need to determine who your characters are, how they behave and interact, and how you can consistently carry that through the plot. You also have to understand dialogue (a pet peeve of mine). If it's not realistic, then the writing falls flat. His recommendation to pay attention to conversations you hear all around you is excellent. Think of it as a free workshop in learning how real people talk.
Where I had issues with the book was in the expected target vs. all the examples. The back cover starts out with "Ever wanted to write a thriller?" The intro mentions "read and watch", but still the main assumption seems to be writing. But the overwhelming number of examples in the book refer back to movies, scenes from movies, or setups of movies. So if you haven't seen the particular film he references, you lose something in the translation. Also, some of the references don't go into detail as to *why* that's a good example. For instance, "enabler" characters are listed as certain performers in movies... Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting, Paulie in Goodfellows, Ronny Cox in Beverly Hills Cop. If you've seen the film, these references might make sense. If you haven't, then it's entirely lost on you. And since I read much more than I watch movies, I didn't get as much out of this as the writer probably intended from his reference point.
The Ingredients of a Good Thriller worked for me in terms of starting to "meta-process" what I'm reading from the viewpoint of a writer. And in a large-type 223 pages, I wouldn't expect an exhaustive coverage. But I'm still not convinced that using film scenes to teach writing technique is a good match, unless you're prepared to watch a movie first, and then analyze it immediately afterwards. And in the case of this book, endless references to films I haven't watched does me no good...