Time for another book recipe! This one’s on how to write a psychological thriller and the most important thing you need to know is that you can’t trust ANYONE.
- One relatable female protagonist with an edgy flaw
- A setting your characters can’t easily escape from
- A selection of suspects/potential victims from the following list:
- Jealous ex
- Suspiciously clingy
- Seemingly perfect overachiever
- Bad boy
- Domineering boss
- Power shortages
- A good dollop of non-specific mistrust
- Terrible decisions
- Your relatable female protagonist has been invited to a setting with no easily-discernible escape route. Oh boy!
- Meet your cast of friends/suspects/victims. Have a lovely time getting to know them all before they start to die.
- Introduce your protagonist’s edgy flaw that means that a) you can’t believe everything she says or b) she can’t go to the police in case anything happens. BUT THAT’S NO BIG DEAL BECAUSE NOTHING’S GOING TO HAPPEN, RIGHT GUYS?
- Your protagonist receives a vaguely threatening message from an anonymous creepo. It’s probably nothing.
- Establish some tensions within the group. Sure do hope those tensions don’t boil over into –
- Huh, that’s weird. All the lights have gone out for some reason.
- Oh no, one of your suspects/potential victims has disappeared! What could possibly have happened to them.
- Have a little search party just to 100% clarify for the reader that victim number one hasn’t just popped off to the shops or something.
- Uh-oh, protagonist has received another scary message! I’m sure it’s fine.
- Just in case it wasn’t absolutely clear that there’s a creepo about, start leaving threatening stuff about the place for the protagonists and her mates to find. You know, anonymous notes, animal skulls, dolls with scribbled-out eyes – that kind of thing.
- Try and escape. This is just for form’s sake, we all know they aren’t going to get anywhere.
- Share a tender moment with one of the suspects/victims. It’s nice to think that people can bond in the midst of all this –
- Things are starting to get pretty tense! Receive another anonymous message that leads the protagonist to discover the body of Victim No. 2.
- The group splits off into factions, Lord of the Flies style, because the Internet is down and there’s nothing else to do.
- Aaaaand someone else is dead. Woops.
- Someone discovers that the protagonist has been receiving anonymous messages and accuses them of being the murderer! Everyone is convinced, because it’s step seventeen and we need a climactic ending.
- Our protagonist runs off to try and avoid getting self-defence murdered and runs into the real murderer – Victim No. 1, whose body was never found!
- They explain that it was all a plot orchestrated to kill the protagonist for reasons, helpfully going through all the steps in their plan in an extremely thorough monologue.
- Fight and defeat the murderer! Fortunately for you, their detailed monologue was overheard by literally everyone else and our protagonist gets off scot-free.
THE END. Serve to someone you really trust. They’d never betray you.
- Phones should only work as and when it’s convenient for the plot. Last-minute recording device to tape the murderer’s monologue? Absolutely. But calling the police when someone actually goes missing? Pssshhh, don’t be silly.
- Don’t forget the tragic backstory!
- Give your protagonist a job that either a) gives her license to be extremely nosy or b) gives her a lot of free time to pursue plot-related stuff. Doctors don’t have time to solve mysteries, they’re too busy.
- A good way to make everyone look suspicious is to splash the word ‘seemingly’ everywhere you can reach.
- Your setting should be remote, but also have a certain amount of glamour to it. It’ll make the pre-murder scenes more fun to read about and it’ll look nice on the book cover.
- You must accept that all of your characters’ decisions – especially your protagonist’s – are going to make absolutely no sense.
- Make sure your protagonist’s flaw is the right kind of edgy. You’re allowed to be PG-13 in this one, so it’d be OK to go with something relating to drugs or sex, but don’t take it too far or it’ll turn into a misery memoir.
And here’s one I prepared earlier…
Jane staggered into the living room, tights laddered, hair and glitter plastered to the side of her face, still carrying her heels in one hand. She was not sure what time it was, exactly, but it was definitely too early. She kicked aside a couple of empty tequila bottles and collapsed onto the sofa, accidentally puncturing Bella’s blow-up doll with one of her heels. It was only the first night of Bella’s hen do, but she did not intend to waste any time.
The living room – so pristine and elegant last night – was a mess. The floor was littered with empty bottles, cigarette butts, crisps that had been trodden into the hardwood floors and assorted bits of equipment for ‘grown-up smoking’, as she had never been able to stop calling it. Everything was covered in a fine layer of glitter – including the window. Jane had to squint to see the savagely beautiful mountain scenery, and there was no hope of catching a glimpse of the island’s one and only beach. The luxury mountain cabin on a private island was certainly a beautiful place for a hen do, but right now all that meant to Jane was that a literal ocean was between her and the nearest kebab van.
Still, she thought, at least she was the first one up. She was probably responsible for most of the glitter, and it couldn’t hurt to try and scrape some of it off before –
“Oh. There you are.”
Ah. The second one up, then.
Lily stood in the doorway, dressed in tasteful running gear and with her sleek blonde hair in a ponytail. She wrinkled her perfect nose at the sight of Jane, sitting in the midst of the debris.
“Have you seen Bella?” she asked, rolling her shoulders back and forth. “We were supposed to go for a run this morning.”
“Probably still hungover,” said Jane, lurching to her feet and stubbing her toe on a tequila bottle. “Want me to wake her?”
“No point now,” said Lily, rotating her arms like a windmill, “I’ve already been down the mountain, twice around the bay, and then to the docks and back. And in seven minutes, too – I’m really feeling all that chardonnay from last night. Did you know the boat’s not coming until Tuesday, by the way?”
“Honestly, Janey,” came a voice from the doorway, “what are you like? Do try to keep up.”
Mimi, Jane’s best friend since childhood, had slouched into the room, closely followed by Bella’s friend Stella.
“Morning,” said Jane, tipping the deflated blow-up doll off the sofa.
“Afternoon, you mean,” said Mimi, throwing herself into a chair. “Poor old Janey! You do look awful. You ought to take it easy, you know.”
Stella flitted around the living room, piling up empty bottles. “Is Bella up yet? We can’t let her see the state of this place! Her uncle’s boss’s friend let her use it as a personal favour, and if we don’t keep it clean she’ll get into terrible trouble!”
Jane staggered off into the kitchen to find some bin bags, and ended up throwing up in the sink. Stella squealed.
“You vomited! That’s disgusting! I can’t believe you would…you would befoul Bella’s uncle’s boss’s friend’s home like this –”
Lily rolled her eyes and did squats against the kitchen counter. “Oh, leave her be, Estelle. Bella won’t mind. All she needs is something to eat. Here, Jane, I’ll make you a kale and quinoa smoothie. Sebastian makes them for me all the time, they’re a real pick-me-up.”
Jane, who had seen pictures of Lily’s fiancé, suspected that anything would feel like a pick-me-up when it was served by someone who looked like Sebastian. She threw up again and started rinsing the glitter out of the sink.
“You don’t want a smoothie, do you, Janey?” said Mimi. “You want a big, fat, greasy burger, slathered in oily cheese, dripping with –”
Jane threw up again.
“Stop it!” squeaked Stella, “stop messing up Bella’s uncle’s friend’s –”
“Give it a rest!” snapped Lily, who was now doing pull-ups from a light fitting. “Why do you care so much about all this, anyway?”
Stella’s eyes filled with tears. “I…I just think B-Bella’s really sp-special…”
Lily dropped down from the light fitting and started doing star jumps. “All right, all right. There’s no need to get upset. Why don’t you make Bella a cup of tea and the girls and I will start straightening the place up a bit.”
Stella sniffed, nodded, and stuck the kettle on. Lily started picking up empty bottles and putting them into a binbag, touching her toes every time she bent down, Mimi started wiping up the glitter, and Jane sat outside with the deflated blow-up doll. The fresh air was making her feel a bit better.
She went to put the blow-up doll and Lily’s bag of empty bottles in the bin when she saw something that stopped her in her tracks. Painted above the bins in blood-red letters were the words ‘HELLO JANEY’. A naked china doll with all its hair cut off sat on top of one of the bins, a wide smile drawn on its sad face in permanent marker.
Jane stared at it for a moment – the doll seemed oddly familiar – and then threw up, spectacularly. She was entirely too hungover to deal with this nonsense now. She’d go inside, have a cup of tea and maybe a few crackers, and think about this when she’d got all the glitter out of her hair.
A shriek came from inside the house. Jane ran back inside, clapping a hand over her mouth, just in case.
Stella was standing in the door to Bella’s bedroom. It was empty.
“Guys!” she yelled, tears streaming down her face, “Bella’s missing!”
My full book-cookbook can be found here. Let me know what you’d like me to look at next – and as always, take this recipe with a pinch of salt.