write to win

‘She looked at him angrily’: Six rules for writing an ‘urban thriller’ from a successful author

Thriller writer Akash Verma on the ways to write the perfect novel to grip readers.

My idea of writing an urban thriller is creating a story that is believable, riveting and strongly impassioned. I have read some nerve wracking murder mysteries, stories about outstanding secret agents, adventure thrillers from across the world; yet to be absolutely honest, it is tough to recreate one such story. My writing can’t be simply borrowed from other books of a similar genre. It needs to be personal, influenced by stories I have lived, seen or heard. This personal touch triggers what I would call a unique idea, which if compelling enough, becomes my next big story.

After the unique idea comes the task of looking out for characters. In my recent book You Never Know, I developed a character called Sid, which wasn’t the plan and happened gradually. I fleshed him by visualising someone I knew from before. This book otherwise had only two voices earlier, Dhruv and Anuradha, but by adding the third voice, I thought the narrative became much stronger. Drawing from such insights, here are the six definite formulas that work when I am writing an urban thriller:

Be “to the point”

No lengthy descriptions or history of characters or explaining why someone did what they did. I expect the story and characters to evolve on their own and the readers to deduce the hidden nuances themselves. Having written love stories earlier, thrillers are a different ball game altogether. A writer gets abundant time to build the characters in love stories through various sub-plots: encountering love – falling in love – being in love – a happy love story or a tragedy. A thriller doesn’t allow you that luxury. If you’re not cautious, your verbose narrative can soon take away the promise of a crackling whodunit and leave the reader disappointed. So I keep a strong leash and never let the story wander.

People are never all black or all white

The reason I choose my characters to be grey is because that’s who we all are if we choose to look deep within. My characters defy normal sensibilities, change colours like a chameleon or do things that can never be expected of them. It is a daring task to create such characters, but then as a writer you need to start walking the road of fearlessness. The farther you walk, the better your writing becomes. You might end up creating disturbing characters, that might intimidate some of your readers and draw flak, but in the long run it’s a small price to pay.

The story always comes first

This is definitely a mantra I swear by. Thrills, chills, all your twists and turns, and the right amount of suspense; all these add up to make a story better but these can never be more important than the storyline. So before I begin writing, I place the storyline firmly in my head or rather jot it down in the form of chapters somewhere. It’s never a descriptive version but just how the plot would unfold bit by bit. The twists are added later as I progress further. I may make changes in the sequence of chapters, and tweak them a bit but the basic storyline always remains the same.

Keep the narration simple and lucid

I admit to not having a gargantuan vocabulary and I believe most of my readers don’t have it either. So I stick to my limitations with no desire to floor my readers with heavy-handed words but rather with my story-telling skills. The usage of too many words as frills is a big No. I would rather say “She looked at him angrily” than “She looked at him as if a raging fire burnt inside her.” I have seen the latter working for many authors fabulously, but this just isn’t my style. To me, if a writer can tell a great story in simple words it is by no means a lesser achievement.

Editing a book is as important as writing it

I have started believing this to be gospel truth over the years. For me a really kick-ass book can turn out to be average if not edited well while an average book can become good with some solid editing. I prefer reading my entire manuscript multiple times, editing, and re-editing before sending it to a professional editor. It’s only after so many checks, that I send my work to a publisher. For all first-time authors this should be a golden rule. To write a good thriller, you need a sharpened pair of scissors that you should hold first, ready to chop off dispassionately all those words, lines, paragraphs and pages that you think shouldn’t be there. Just trade places with your reader and it will be so much easier. Trust me, it’s the best thing you will do to your book.

The first and the last chapters should do the magic

Though there isn’t a set formula to it, but getting the reader hooked from the first chapter works better than doing it later. If you can grab their attention right from the start, lesser chances that they will leave it midway. The climax on the other hand can be fashioned in multiple ways, either it can be sudden and nerve wracking or it unfolds calmly, but the ending should be nothing less than fantastic. It should leave the reader thinking about the book long after they have read it. If you are able to gather this response from your reader then as a writer you have done an excellent job.

This article first appeared on The Penguin Digest.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Some of the most significant innovations in automotive history made their debut in this iconic automobile

The latest version features India's first BS VI norms-compliant engine and a host of 'intelligent' features.

The S-Class, also known as Sonderklasse or special class, represents Mercedes Benz’ top-of-the-line sedan line up. Over the decades, this line of luxury vehicles has brought significant automotive technologies to the mainstream, with several firsts to its credit and has often been called the best car in the world. It’s in the S-Class that the first electronic ESP and ABS anti-lock braking system made their debut in the 20th century.

Twenty first-century driver assistance technologies which predict driver-behaviour and the vehicle’s course in order to take preventive safety measures are also now a staple of the S-Class. In the latest 2018 S-Class, the S 350 d, a 360-degree network of cameras, radars and other sensors communicate with each other for an ‘intelligent’ driving experience.

The new S-Class systems are built on Mercedes Benz’s cutting-edge radar-based driving assistance features, and also make use of map and navigation data to calculate driving behaviour. In cities and on other crowded roads, the Active Distance Assist DISTRONIC helps maintain the distance between car and the vehicle in front during speeds of up to 210 kmph. In the same speed range, Active Steering Assist helps the driver stay in the centre of the lane on stretches of straight road and on slight bends. Blind Spot Assist, meanwhile, makes up for human limitations by indicating vehicles present in the blind spot during a lane change. The new S-Class also communicates with other cars equipped with the Car-to-X communication system about dicey road conditions and low visibility due to fog, rain, accidents etc. en route.

The new S-Class can even automatically engage the emergency system when the driver is unable to raise an alarm. Active Emergency Stop Assist brings the car to a stop if it detects sustained periods of inactivity from the driver when Active Steering Assist is switched on. If the driver doesn’t respond to repeated visual and audible prompts, it automatically activates the emergency call system and unlocks the car to provide access to first responders.

The new Mercedes-Benz S 350 d in India features another notable innovation – the country’s first BS VI norms-compliant car engine, in accordance with government regulations to control vehicular pollution. Debuting two years before the BS VI deadline of 2020, the S 350 d engine also remains compatible with the current BS IV fuels.

The S 350 d is an intelligent car made in India, for Indian roads - in the Mercedes Benz S-Class tradition. See the video below to know what drives the S-Class series by Mercedes Benz.

To know more about the 2018 S-Class, click here.


This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Mercedes Benz and not by the Scroll editorial team.