Thrillers are mainly about tension. Here a completely innocent person comes into the focus of a villain. The person has to fear for his life and gets more and more under massive pressure. Usually he is on his own or has only few helpers. The immense pressure and being completely alone often causes nerve-wracking tension. Many science fiction and horror stories are based on elements of the thriller.

Thrillers deal with life-threatening situations for the protagonist, which come to a head. The protagonist increasingly has to fear for his life. Thriller elements can also be found in crime stories, for example when the investigator himself is threatened. The main difference to the genre of the crime novel, however, is that thrillers are usually about simple, innocent people who are under pressure. Crime stories, on the other hand, are usually about investigative professionals. Furthermore, thrillers usually have more action than crime novels. Therefore, many action movies can also be called thrillers.

Thrillers are mainly meant to create tension. This works by putting the protagonist under pressure and fearing for his life. Many thrillers start with the protagonist facing hostility. Therefore he has to defend himself. At first he refuses to do so. But the pressure gets bigger and bigger until he starts to act and tries to find a way out of the threatening situation.

A key phrase for thrillers could therefore be A single person is under increasing pressure.

As a rule, it is always an individual who comes under pressure in thrillers. If it’s two people, the second one is often the wife, a friend or a ward. The protagonist first has to learn to defend himself before he can defend himself offensively and go over to a counterattack. This results in two essential aspects of thrillers: First, the protagonist must learn to defend himself against violence. Then he attacks in order to free himself from the precarious situation.

The interplay between the two aspects is as follows …

First aspect: coming under pressure

  • An enemy suddenly exerts pressure on the protagonist.
  • The protagonist is alone and must seek shelter.
  • The situation is hopeless.
  • Help seems nowhere in sight.
  • Escape attempts are made to leave the supposedly safe hiding place.
  • The opponent notices this and exerts pressure again.
  • Escape and renewed hiding.

Second aspect: Attack and free yourself

  • A helper appears and/or the protagonist learns to fight.
  • Preparation of the defense.
  • Plan: The protagonist must enter the enemy’s fortress to destroy or weaken him.
  • The plan goes wrong, because the opponent is overpowering. Open duel with the opponent.
  • Retreat of the protagonist into his hiding place.
  • The opponent again exerts pressure.
  • By unexpected help from outside or by a trick the protagonist can defeat the opponent.

In all cases, thrillers have an overpowering opponent who is ruthless and unscrupulous. He has it in for the protagonist or something the protagonist owns. The protagonist must “fight free” and, depending on the character, develop new talents or rediscover old, almost forgotten talents.

Use the drop-down menu under “Thriller” to read on or click here.