Thriller Writing – A Leap of Faith

by Pamela Hegarty

Every great thriller novel doesn’t begin with action, a dive head first into uncharted waters.  It begins with the writer’s leap of faith.  If you want your readers to believe that a young boy named Harry Potter can learn to cast spells, you’ve got to believe that you can cast spells with your readers. So although I plan to focus on marketing on my Monday posts to this blog, my marketing tip of the day is this:

Believe in yourself. Keep believing in yourself. That is the cornerstone of a successful marketing plan.

Take that leap of faith and allow yourself to try promoting your book creatively. If your thriller is set in a winery, perhaps a winery will display it at their tasting bar and sell it in their gift shop. If your thriller is about genetics, think about getting a blurb from an expert in that field. Distribution networks like Amazon and the internet open new portals to potential readers who are looking for your book. Invite them in.


The Advantages of a Series Character

By Pamela Hegarty

Lee Child, bestselling author of the Jack Reacher thrillers, offered these insights in a workshop which I attended some time ago:

A series character makes it easier for a reader to buy a book, and sometimes encourages them to buy previous books in the series.

You can’t design a series character to be succesful. Let the character be himself and hope for the best. Don’t worry whether the character will be liked or disliked.

Allow the main character to be a little rugged, a tad dastardly. Many writers use a sidekick to be the tough one so the main character can remain pure. The main character should have those “dark” elements. This can work well with female characters, too.

On character development, Child believes his readers are looking for the same character in different situations. Series characters don’t even have to age. Readers can always count on Jack Reacher. This works well for Jack Reacher, but not for all series characters, like Harry Potter, or Christa Devlin, the main character in my upcoming series, who are altered by the experiences.

But the most important tip Child offered: Be yourself. Close your eyes and jump. Don’t be intimidated.


What Odysseus Taught Me about Character

by Pamela Hegarty

Last Friday, at twilight, I sat in the ancient theater at Epidaurus in Greece, imagining a world of bold heroes fighting seemingly unstoppable monsters, just as those sitting in this same seat before me since the third century BC.  People came to Epidaurus for healing, and theatrical entertainment was part of their healing process.  The story helped them transcend everyday worries, and realize the full potential of the human spirit and endurance, at least for a little while.  The gods’ triumph over the giants reassured that order can trump chaos.  Heroes like Heracles proved that man can be a hero.

Odysseus was the first and the ultimate thriller hero.  Brave, clever, and determined to return to his wife and home, he is willing to endure any hardship to acquire his goal.  His mettle is tested by seductive sirens and one-eyed giants which the gods, like the thriller writer, put in his path to draw out the depths of his strengths and weaknesses.  We want these tales to stretch our imaginations because we’re fighting right alongside Odysseus.

Two thousand years later, thriller readers still enjoy imagining themselves in heroes like Odysseus, and thriller writers can still look to ancient Greece for the key elements of an enduring thriller hero.

Travel as Inspiration in Fiction Writing

by Pamela Hegarty

Whether you’re travelling to new worlds in body or spirit this summer, the journey can only enrich your writing.  Greece is next on my list of places to see, for research, of course, into their unparalleled storytelling tradition and a first-hand experience of the Acropolis, which is featured in the opening chapters of my next book.

Mark Twain, one of my favorite authors, has this to offer.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the
things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the
bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails.
Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Can Women Thriller Writers Shoot Out the Glass Ceiling?

by D. Pat Thomas 

At ThrillerFest last week in New York City, a high-powered panel explored the question “Is There Equal Opportunity Among Women Thriller Writers?” Editor in Chief of G.P. Putnam’s Sons, Neil Nyren served as Panel Master, with Dan Conaway from Writers House and authors Lisa Gardner, Brenda Novak, Karen Rose, Erica Spindler and Kate White as panelists.

Gardner began the session with controversial statistics: half of the thrillers on the
market are written by women. However, in 1985 only 15% of them were reviewed by
the New York Times. By 1989 that figure rose to 25% and it now stands at 34%. A
survey assessing readers’ perceived quality in writing showed higher scores for
authors with initials over those with female names for the same material. While
the Prestigious ThrillerMaster award has been awarded fairly evenly, other ITW
awards have gone disproportionately to men. Gardner maintained ITW cannot start
counting gender, but White countered, “At some point you do have to look and
see if there’s unfairness there” and drew the categories into question.

”I like my tough guys really tough,” one reader told Gardner, stating he did not read female writers. Three of the other female writers recalled similar emails. “I don’t think there are a lot of female readers who don’t read men, but I do think there are men who don’t read women, and the reason is men suck,“ quipped Conaway; “Guys like to read Lee Child and say so.” The panel seemed to agree that ebooks could well signal a change,
since no one can tell what is being read. In the meantime, Gardner said she has
been instructed not to wear pink and not to smile in her pictures; black leather conveys a better image.

Conaway said he would rather sell a big hard cover deal to Nyren if the author is a woman, and explained there are more women readers. According to an audience member, more editors are asking for female writers, and more of those editors are women as well.

D. Pat Thomas is a new thriller writer who craves action, as can be seen from her website.


Fiction Writers – Do You Have a Vision?

by Pamela Hegarty

I attended David Morrell’s workshop at Thrillerfest this past Wednesday.  I’ve been giving much thought to his topic, Do You Have a Vision?  Before you spend a year (or more) writing a novel, ask yourself why you are writing it.  For fame?  For fortune?  Most who attained these have realized that they are false values.  Figure out what is compelling you to tell your story, and you will know the satisfaction of success when you have completed it.

Even better, with e-publishing, you can reach the reader directly with your vision.  Don’t try to chase the market and mold your book to sell.  It’s a losing, and eternally frustrating, proposition.  You now have the opportunity, and permission, to write what you love.

So, before you write another line, write down your vision for your book.  That vision will be your compass.

Make Your Paranormal Young Adult Novel Sparkle

By Cyn Balog

Paranormal young adult novels have taken the world by storm since TWILIGHT unleashed its sparkly vampires upon the world. Six years later, the trend doesn’t show any signs of slowing. Last year, Barnes and Noble even created a special section for paranormal novels in the YA aisle, separating them from the dwindling number of contemporary realistic novels.  Because teens are still buying them up like crazy, paranormal submissions are overrunning NYC like a swarm of zombies.

So how do you make your paranormal novel sparkle without the help of Edward Cullen?

First, a fresh concept is essential. Many concepts are overdone. Vampire books are still being released today (Meg Cabot’s newest is a vampire novel), but in order for yours to really stand out, you need to be Meg Cabot. If you’re not, you really need a completely new twist, which is hard to accomplish considering how many vampire books are on the market these days. Angel books, fairy books . . . all of these can be done, but you need to keep abreast of what is already out there and then strive to be different.

Secondly, keep in mind that young adult books have evolved considerably in the last ten years. Whereas once the typical young adult book was 50,000 words and fairly simple, now, readers expect longer books with many plot layers. These books are not unlike adult books. Actually, the only major difference is that the main character is a teen. If you are thinking of writing YA, you should at least read a dozen recent YA books to understand what the market is like.

Thirdly, do not be afraid to do something crazy. YA as a genre is willing to take more risks, which is why I love writing it. So experiment with new ways of telling your story. Want to write it chronologically backwards? Go for it. Want to have a tree be one of the viewpoint characters? Try it. Editors are much more willing to accept the strange, because teens as a whole are willing to accept the strange. So don’t be afraid to go wild and really have fun with it!

Cyn Balog is the author of young adult paranormal novels FAIRY TALE (Delacorte), a 2010 RWA RITA finalist for best romantic fiction, and SLEEPLESS, which Kirkus called “a lovely read.” Her latest novel, STARSTRUCK, releases on July 12. Two more novels, TOUCHED and DEAD RIVER will be released soon. She lives in Bucks County with her husband and daughters. Visit her online at

The Writing Life – Go Ahead and Build Castles in the Sky

Writers have to dream big.  We all have days when we wonder if we have the stuff to make our dreams come real.

I grew up down the road from Walden Pond, so I find this quote by Henry David Thoreau especially inspiring.

“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”

Walden, Henry David Thoreau

Keep writing.  Believe in your work.

The Character-Driven Novel: Four Traits of a Likeable Character

by Pamela Hegarty

I picked this up at a Thrillerfest workshop offered by William Bernhardt.  A thriller novel thrives on action plots, but readers are only hooked into the action if they are rooting the hero onward to victory.  And who wants to cheer for a character we don’t care about?

Here are four traits to make characters likeable:

1.  Show that your character is very good at what he or she does.  James Bond and Lara Croft come to mind.

2.  A likeable character has a sense of humor.  Nobody wants a heavy-hitter all the time.  I particularly lean towards characters whose sense of humor is self-deprecating.

3.  The character suffers an undeserved misfortune, is the underdog, and possibly is (don’t shoot the messenger!) disabled.

4.  Another character likes that character and they like them back.  What better way to expose a character’s best traits without appearing boastful?

And, like the boy scouts, a likeable character exhibits honesty, integrity, loyalty, kindness, respect and trust.

An exercise for thriller writers:  Write down three positive and two negative traits of your protagonist and your villain.  Why do they have these traits?

A Thriller for Father’s Day

By Pamela Hegarty

Looking for that last-minute Father’s Day gift?  How about a top thriller novel, and a few hours of peace and quiet to read it?  The following websites offer recommendations for a thrilling gift:

Jennifer Lawrence, a book blogger in Arlington, Virginia, offers several suggestions, ranging from a political thriller, set in the early days of Hitler’s reign, to a paranormal, involving a chilling series of deaths and a mysterious black panther, to a psychological about an amnesic who is prime suspect in his wife’s murder.  Link to it here.

If you need more recommendations, here are fifty top thriller novels of all time, as chosen by Naomi Sarah on