It is wonderful to welcome back fellow Chindi author, Helen Christmas, to Patricia’s Pen. Today Helen chats about adapting her writing style to a new genre. She also provides nine top tips in writing psychological thrillers. Without further ado, let’s go over to Helen.
Adapting my writing style to a new genre
I have always loved thrillers. For six years I was immersed in writing a series, Same Face Different Place, a mystery crime thriller across four decades. But in 2018 (after completing my series) I started reading psychological thrillers, a passion born from authors like Caroline Mitchell and Clare Macintosh.
At the same time I was thinking about what new direction to take my writing in and had an idea: the concept of three friends fighting to survive in a children’s home. One of them mysteriously vanishes, leaving the others traumatised, their memories repressed. I imagined them meeting as adults; twenty years had passed and they never knew what happened to him…
This very concept inspired ‘Lethal Ties.’
This was to be a psychological thriller; a historic child abuse case portrayed through the minds of the victims. Parts of my story I wanted to relate in psychotherapy, one character, Maisie, recovering memories, only to experience shocking flashbacks and nightmares. My male protagonist, Joe, meanwhile, spent a lifetime looking over his shoulder.
My book deals with mental health, the characters complex. I struggled at first, because the process of writing a psychological thriller was so different to writing an action thriller.
What are the differences?
Crime thrillers are fast paced. There is action and it needs to be explosive, the storyline gripping. There is likely to be violence, scenes such as police chases or a kidnapping.
But in a psychological thriller, the pace has to be slower. The biggest difference in writing psychological fiction, I discovered, is they are far more character driven.
There is a mystery in Lethal Ties, which needed careful unpicking. This started with my two characters sharing memories. But in my first draft, I revealed too many clues, too fast. You can’t rush a psychological thriller, or you kill the suspense. A gradual drip feed of information keeps readers hooked. And the more of the genre I read, the more I understood how essential this was, but it took two re-writes to hit the spot.
Top tips in writing psychological thrillers
1. Create a suspenseful backstory; the past has a significant bearing on the predicament explored in the present timeline.
2. Withhold crucial information; psychological thrillers contain secrets in the characters and plot. Keep them hidden to ramp up suspense.
3. Include narrative twists and turns. Taking the story into darker territory will leave your readers on tenterhooks.
4. Create strong, memorable protagonists, the more flawed, the better. It is their failings and instability that keeps readers on their side.
5. Get inside their heads, tap into their thoughts and emotions. An overriding emotion is often fear and there is plenty in Lethal Ties.
6. Create an atmospheric setting. Woods are a favourite and I liked the idea of including a sea mist.
7. But it is not uncommon to use a familiar setting for a shocking scene or twist. Example: a beautiful country house, which transforms into a place of terror.
8. Well researched police procedures are the key ingredient essential to all thrillers (both crime and psychological). Get police procedurals right to give your story authenticity.
9. Checking procedures was one factor that ensured I got the investigation in my story water-tight, so embarking on a 3rd re-write, using this research, I completed a first draft in autumn 2020.
About Helen Christmas
Helen Christmas is creative, ambitious, and enjoys working from home with her husband, running their web design business. She loves where she lives and with a passion for walking and photography has found inspiration to base her novel in West Sussex. She is also active on social media, writes a blog and likes networking with other authors. In 2017 she completed a mystery thriller series Same Face Different Place, and has many ideas for books in the psychological suspense genre. LETHAL TIES is her first psychological thriller, a standalone novel, and there’s even a little romance woven into the pages.
To purchase Lethal Ties or any of Helen’s other books pop over to her Amazon page – HERE.