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Diary of a Psychological Thriller Writer: First draft

Updated: Mar 10, 2022

Where do your ideas come from? How do you think up the characters? Do you plot before you write or does the story reveal itself to you as you type?

Authors face these sort of questions from readers every day and so, in an attempt to demystify the process of writing a thriller, I’m embarking on a diary to show you step-by-step how my novels move from a rough idea to a published book.

Welcome to the Diary of a Psychological Thriller Writer.

First draft

Plotting of my new thriller (title yet to be confirmed!) sadly has to take a back seat when the final edits come back on my latest thriller, Nothing Left To Lose.

It’s a thorough developmental edit looking at the plot and character arcs, how the story flows and where there are crucial holes in the story.

Sadly, this final edit stage is a full-time job. It’s the moment the story finally gets pulled into shape to be read by an audience and so takes up all of my energies.

It means plotting on the new book has to wait.

And when the editing’s done, there’s the formatting and publication to think about as well as promotion, marketing, advertising and delivering advance reader copies to my faithful team of early readers.

It all takes time and effort, but that’s the price I pay as an independently, self-published author. I get to call all the shots, but I also get to do all the work.

Finally, by January and having worked through the Christmas period, Nothing Left To Lose is out. I’ll tinker with the marketing as I go, but as far as writing, I can now concentrate on the new plot.

So where was I?

Fortunately, the brain is an amazing organ and all the while I don’t think I’ve paid it any attention, my subconscious has been beavering away.

Where there were plot holes and difficulties before, now I see solutions and new paths to take.

In a matter of a week to ten days, I’ve outlined a complete story.

Some writers like to discover their plots with their characters along the way, but I’m definitely in the other camp.

I need to know where the plot is going. I need to know the beginning, the middle and the end.

There are plenty of elements that I’ll add in along the way as they occur to me, but having that solid structure set out gives me confidence to write.

I achieve this by breaking the book into the three key acts and determine five key scenes for each, so that I have a skeleton of fifteen scenes.

These are the inciting incident, the event that kicks off the scene.

The turning point complication – the action or revelation that changes the protagonist’s view of his predicament.

The crisis – the dilemma, usually a best worst choice my protagonist has to make

The climax – which decision my protagonist takes to resolve their crisis

And resolution – how the scene plays out in light of that decision.

Next it’s on to the list of characters, starting with the protagonist.

What’s the theme of the novel going to be and how is that going to be reflected in what my hero wants (the physical thing he wants, for example to solve the crime) and what he needs (the mental lie he believes that needs to change in order for him to achieve what he wants)?

I do the same with the antagonist, the character who’s going to put my hero through the mill.

And then the list of supporting characters who will help or hinder my hero through the plot.

Of course, they all need names and that’s never a quick process.

I like to choose names for my main characters that stand out but are not so unusual that they’re difficult to pronounce or remember (which is one reason I could never get on with reading fantasy!).

I’ll write brief notes up on the key characters and their wants, beliefs, needs, lies they tell themselves and back stories, and then I’m nearly ready to start writing.

The last part of my planning process is new with my latest thriller – and that’s writing out each scene on a card that I’ve pinned up on a notice board over my desk.

It helps me to see at a glance exactly where the story is going and how far along I am with the plot.

So far it’s working well for me and I’ve been writing at record pace.

For a first draft, when the key is simply to get the story written down, I’ve been aiming for 2,000 words a day.

However, I’ve been reaching closer to 3,000 words a day in the last week because I know exactly where the story is headed.

There will be lots of tweaks to come, but I’m really happy with progress so far.

A daily word count ensures I keep moving forward with the plot and meet my editing deadline

I already have a deadline confirmed for the developmental edit with my editor, Rebecca, and from that I can work out a publication date in September.

Next on my list is to finalise a title and to commission a cover from our design team.

As I write this, I’m now over 50,000 words into the first draft and should be finished with it by the end of March, ready for the next step along the book’s journey.

There’s a long slog ahead but having words down on a page always feels like good progress and I’m already thinking about the plot for book six!

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