Recipe for Writing a Great Thriller: Ten Key Ingredients

We have a special guest today. Dean DeLuke, author of the thriller novel, Shedrow (Grey Swan Press), is here to give us the ten key ingredients for writing a great thriller. Enjoy!

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Recipe for Writing a Great Thriller: Ten Key Ingredients by Dean DeLuke

1) Start with the big “what if.” Any great story starts with that simple “what if” question. What if a series of high-profile executives in the managed care industry are serially murdered? (Michael Palmer’s The Society) What if a multimillion dollar stallion dies suddenly under very mysterious circumstances on a supposedly secure farm in Kentucky? (Dean DeLuke’s Shedrow)

2) Put a MacGuffin to work in your story. Popularized by Alfred Hitchcock, the MacGuffin is that essential plot element that drives virtually all characters in the story. So in Shedrow, the MacGuffin would be: how did the stallion actually die?

3) Pacing is critical. Plot out the timeline of emotional highs and lows in a story. It should look like a rolling pattern of highs and lows that crescendo upward to the ultimate crisis. Take advantage of the fact that following any of those emotional peaks, you likely have the reader’s undivided attention. That would be a good time to provide backstory or fill in needed information for the reader—information that may be critical but perhaps not as exciting as what just transpired.

4) Torture your protagonists. Just when the reader thinks that the hero is finally home free, throw in another obstacle.

5) Be original, and surprise your readers. Create twists and turns that are totally unexpected, yet believable.

6) As a general rule, consider short sentences and short chapters. This is strictly a personal preference, but who can argue with James Patterson’s short chapters or with Robert Parker’s short and engaging sentences. Sentence length can be varied for effect, too, with shorter sentences serving to heighten action or increase tension.

7) Avoid the passive tense. Your readers want action.

8) Long, drawn-out descriptions of the way characters look, or even setting descriptions are easily overdone in a thriller. Stephen King advises writers to “just say what they see, then get on with the story.”

9) Assess each chapter ending and determine if the reader has been given enough reason to want to continue reading. Pose a question, end with a minor cliffhanger, or at least assure that there is enough accumulated tension in the story.

10) Edit aggressively and cut out the fluff. Ernest Hemingway once confided to F. Scott Fitzgerald, “I write one page of masterpiece to ninety-one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

Dr. Dean DeLuke is a graduate of St. Michael’s College, Columbia University (DMD) and Union Graduate College (MBA). He completed residency training at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and also participated in a fellowship in maxillofacial surgery at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead, England.

He currently divides his time between the practice of oral and maxillofacial surgery and a variety of business consulting activities with Millennium Business Communications, LLC, a boutique marketing, communications and business consulting firm. An active volunteer, he has served on the Boards of the St. Clare’s Hospital Foundation, the Kidney Foundation of Northeast New York, and the Albany Academy for Girls. He has also performed medical missionary work with Health Volunteers Overseas.

He has a long history of involvement with thoroughbred horses—from farm hand on the Assunta Louis Farm in the 1970s to partner with Dogwood Stable at present.

His latest book is Shedrow, a medical thriller with a unique twist.

You can visit his website at or connect with him at Facebook at

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