Having received the eagerly awaited “Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays” book by Lucy V. Hay (read my interview with her HERE), I couldn’t resist starting it immediately, and soon found myself devouring its pages at some speed; a testament to its fascinating content.
Far from being a dare-we-say-boring “how to write” book that repeats the same stuff we’ve all read a million times before, Lucy really hones in on the specific genre of thrillers with expertise; she has, after all, read and watched thousands of them over the years as a consultant and editor and is now producing them as well!
Lucy breaks down the genre into detail so it’s easy to digest, making it far less complicated and daunting to learn about than you might expect. Whilst it may be easy for writers to learn about basic structure, it’s genre conventions that can greatly confuse and let down a writer when they try to write and sell a genre script.
The first half of the book (parts one and two) focusses on defining and writing a thriller, starting with identifying genre conventions and character types; and there’s a fair few! The clarity with which Lucy analyses the subtle differences between them and presents cases to illustrate them really makes it clear in your mind. There will be “AHA” moments!
There’s lots of advice on making your idea high concept and unique. Samey storylines and characters are more common in the spec pile than writers realise, so knowing how to bring something fresh to your thriller screenplay is essential. A story that’s not been done before/not been approached in *that way* before, and a script that’s high concept with a good commercial hook, is on the thriller film-maker’s wishlist.
Aside from wisely advising that writers watch loads of thriller movies to see for themselves what’s gone before, Lucy pinpoints plots and characters that do the rounds and helps clarify what makes certain plots and characters work really well.
Even the advice on titles and loglines is genre-specific, and the advice throughout the book is really well-paced, not overloading us with too much information to handle at any given time and gently re-emphasizing the most important points to consider.
Lucy’s tips on writing thriller loglines:
As you can see from the above summary about loglines, writing and pitching a high concept thriller means concentrating more on a commercial hook over character depth. Every thriller needs to convey a sense of jeopardy and the notion of “it could happen to you”.
Another interesting point about thrillers is that they’ll often occur over a day, or a few days, and will have some sort of a time limit/deadline to help increase the tension and time-ticking suspense, and to create that dramatic question “will they or won’t they?” regarding the script’s outcome.
However, the most important point is that “concept is key” – both in creating a script that professionals will request and recommend, and in selling your script. Writers often argue that it’s the “execution that counts”, but this book makes you understand that whilst execution is a big part of it, it’s always going to be the idea that makes or breaks your thriller script.
The second half of the book (part three) concentrates on selling your script and gives some very harsh but practical truths about the industry and how your script will be perceived. There’s so much more work that goes into selling a script than most writers imagine, so Lucy’s advice – particularly for those who want to package up their script themselves in order to attract funding, producers and cast – is really useful.
Unlike other Creative Essentials books I’ve read so far, there’s no interviews in this book, but there are tweet-length tips and advice from industry professionals and creatives, and helpful quotes too. Then there’s a whole section at the back with useful advice on getting your work, and yourself, out there, and links to help you do so.
There’s also a list of recommended script readers… With someone *AHEM* featuring in the list!
A writer (latest novel, Gut Decision, published by Rowohlt, and latest writing guide, Writing and Selling Thriller Screenplays, published by Creative Essentials), a screenwriter with several short films under her belt, a script editor who’s worked with the likes of J.K. Amalou, Stilleto Films and Embrace Productions, a script consultant, public speaker and director of education for the London Screenwriters’ Festival. Lucy is represented by the mighty Julian Friedmann at Blake Friedmann Literary, TV and Film Agency.