Most writers will say they write a novel by asking themselves “What if…?” They see an incident and they wonder what would happen if something else occurs. The something else is, of course the ‘What if?” The story comes when the question is answered. Or in other words, the answer is the story. Naturally we all know that a ‘what if’ question in conversation can usually be answered in three sentences or less. But three sentences don’t make a novel. Novels have chapters. And page after page. And here is where the mandate comes into play.
All the best thriller novels heed the mandate.
The mandate states that the reader has to have a reason to keep reading.
In my first novel “A False Start,” I asked myself the question “What if someone survived 9/11 and didn’t tell their loves ones?” The next question was “Why would someone do that?” And my story was born. I not only had to answer why, I also had to answer who and how? Before I knew it I had a cast of characters telling this impossible story through their words and actions. They made it believable. I wrote so that my readers would continue to turn the page. I had to heed the mandate.
In her first novel “Where Are the Children?” Mary Higgins Clark answered the question “What if a mother lost her children twice?” She proceeded to create characters and circumstances to answer that impossible question. And boy did she have her work cut out! But she did it. And as a reader, I kept turning the pages. She heeded the mandate.
Authors of the best thriller novels treat the mandate like a commandment:
Thou shalt write a thriller in a manner that ensures the reader will keep reading.