Today I’m pleased to welcome Paul Hardisty to the blog. Paul is the author of The Abrupt Physics of Dying and The Evolution of Fear and his latest novel, Reconciliation for the Dead is published by Orenda Books on 30 May 2017
Today Paul has written a guest post on the Six Qualities of a Great Thriller
At a recent writing festival, I was asked what, in my opinion, made a thriller great. I’ve thought a lot about that since, as the Claymore Straker series has evolved, and as the depth and breadth of my reading within and outside the genre has continued. Every reader has his or her own preferences, of course, but for me, there are six critical things that a thriller must do:
1. Create immediacy, and don’t wait too long to do it. The author must put the reader right in the middle of the action, making him or her feel as if they are right there, seeing the wind-bent grasses and the columns of black smoke rising from the burning wreckage, feeling the hot wind on their face, smelling the dust and the cordite, hearing the screams and the blood pumping in their own veins. In Reconciliation for the Dead, (third of the Claymore Straker novels), chapter one puts the reader right into the middle of a firefight with communist insurgents in Angola.
2. Challenge the reader. In creating immediacy, a thriller should challenge the reader to ask: faced with these circumstances, in this situation, what would I do? Would I act? If so, what would I do, and why? Would I run, fight, stand up for what is right? And what, in this situation, does right actually look like (it should never be, and never is, simple, or binary – there are always arguments for any course of action). In The Evolution of Fear (2nd in the series), the reader is witness to the destruction of a species, and there are no easy answers.
3. Drive intensity. A thriller, by very definition, must rivet the reader’s attention, draw them in and never let go. By the end, the reader must feel as if they have fought ten rounds in the UFC cage and survived. It must be an intense experience, in every sense of the word.
4. Be realistic. For me, realism is a key aspect of a good thriller. Bringing the reader as close as possible to the action is one way of doing this (immediacy, above). Another is to make the action plausible and believable, without sacrificing freshness and surprise.
5. Keep the reader off balance. Place the characters in situations that are destabilising, and at each stage offer then several likely and plausible options for action. Then have them do something unexpected, or be faced with a surprise that they could not have foreseen. Piling on the pressure as the story unfolds adds to this feeling of being rocked by punches and roundhouse spin kicks that you just didn’t see coming.
6. Inform. As a reader, I want to learn. Thrillers are great vehicles for telling a broader story about an important issue, and to transmit information on a variety of subjects that the reader may not be familiar with. In The Abrupt Physics of Dying, the first of the Claymore Straker novels, I hope that readers learn a little bit about Yemen – a little-visited, exotic and troubled land – and its embattled people.
Many of these qualities are exactly what one would hope to get in just about any good book, from high literature to the most traditional police procedural. And of course, there are many other qualities that we look for, as readers, in the books we read. Happy reading.
About the book:
Fresh from events in Yemen and Cyprus, vigilante justice-seeker Claymore Straker returns to South Africa, seeking absolution for the sins of his past. Over four days, he testifies to Desmond Tutu’s newly established Truth and Reconciliation Commission, recounting the shattering events that led to his dishonourable discharge and exile, fifteen years earlier. It was 1980. The height of the Cold War. Clay is a young paratrooper in the South African Army, fighting in Angola against the Communist insurgency that threatens to topple the White Apartheid regime. On a patrol deep inside Angola, Clay, and his best friend, Eben Barstow, find themselves enmeshed in a tangled conspiracy that threatens everything they have been taught to believe about war, and the sacrifices that they, and their brothers in arms, are expected to make. Witness and unwitting accomplice to an act of shocking brutality, Clay changes allegiance and finds himself labelled a deserter and accused of high treason, setting him on a journey into the dark, twisted heart of institutionalised hatred, from which no one will emerge unscathed. Exploring true events from one of the most hateful chapters in South African history, Reconciliation for the Dead is a shocking, explosive and gripping thriller from one finest writers in contemporary crime fiction.
About the author:
Canadian Paul Hardisty has spent 25 years working all over the world as an engineer, hydrologist and environmental scientist. He has roughnecked on oil rigs in Texas, explored for gold in the Arctic, mapped geology in Eastern Turkey (where he was befriended by PKK rebels), and rehabilitated water wells in the wilds of Africa. He was in Ethiopia in 1991 as the Mengistu regime fell, and was bumped from one of the last flights out of Addis Ababa by bureaucrats and their families fleeing the rebels. In 1993 he survived a bomb blast in a café in Sana’a, and was one of the last Westerners out of Yemen before the outbreak of the 1994 civil war. Paul is a university professor and Director of Australia’s national land, water, ecosystems and climate adaptation research programmes. He is a sailor, a private pilot, keen outdoorsman, conservation volunteer, and lives in Western Australia.