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Mastering the Nuances of the Thriller

By Dawn Ius

There’s a certain artform that comes with crafting a thriller—nuances that must be carefully woven into the story to create that perfect balance of action and exposition, page-turning suspense and emotional resonance, plot and character.

A tall order for even the most skilled of scribes, but for those just getting their literary feet wet, a potentially daunting challenge, regardless of how many thrillers line your bookshelves.

“There’s a moment when you first sit down and write Chapter One where you realize—you have no idea what you’re doing,” says New York Times bestselling author Hank Phillippi Ryan.

The tendency may be to panic—but Ryan says “Don’t. Come to ITW. They say you can only learn from experience, but here’s the secret: it doesn’t have to be your own.”

Ryan is one of seven master thriller writers poised to share knowledge and experience as part of the International Thriller Writers’ sixth annual Online Thriller School, a virtual classroom where for eight weeks starting March 25, the craft of thriller writing will be front and center.

“ITW School is an amazing balance of focused attention and freedom,” she says. “Because the classes are both live and online, students can juggle their time in a way that provides the most benefit for them.”

Whether that means spending extra time studying the areas of craft you feel are your weak points—such as point of view, which is the skill on which Ryan will focus her lessons.

“If you want to be a successful writer, this is a necessity, because the most critical element of writing a terrific thriller is deciding who’s going to tell your story, and how they’ll tell it,” she says. “Twenty years ago, I made a pitiful attempt at a book, I think I got through one chapter. Happily, I saved it. When I looked at it recently, I burst out laughing. Page one had six different points of view—because back then I had no idea what that even meant. The result of mastering point of view is book-changing and life-changing for writers—it’s a fascinating element that’s both super intuitive and super complicated. But I promise you: at the end of my class, you’ll nail your POV.”

Of course, before POV comes the story itself, and internationally bestselling author Steve Berry will kick off the program with the art of storytelling. In the following weeks, Grant Blackwood will cover plot, David Corbett will demonstrate the effectiveness of dialogue, James Scott Bell will capture voice, F. Paul Wilson will teach on character, and Gayle Lynds will talk about the importance of setting, mood, and atmosphere.

“Students will learn a little-known but powerful skill,” Lynds promises. “How to use mood, setting, and description to increase the riveting nature of character, drama, suspense, story, and plot.”

All taught from the comfort of your living room—or writer’s den.

“Rather than trek across hundreds of miles (or more!), all you have to do to learn from top-notch, bestselling authors is sit at your computer in the comfort of your own home where you can easily listen, make notes, and ask as many questions as you like,” says Lynds.

In fact, each of the instructors will be fully accessible throughout the eight-week program—creating an environment ripe for learning, regardless of your publishing history and level of skill.

“The minute we think we can no longer grow or learn as writers, is the moment of writing doom,” says Ryan. “So of course this program is a writing necessity! My goal is to have one shining moment of realization for everyone in my class. I want each student to say at some point in their process, ‘Oh, that’s what Hank meant!’”

The eight-week program ends with a special learn-to-pitch session with Kathleen Antrim.

ITW Online Thriller School is a unique opportunity to learn from some of the genre’s best—but attendance is limited. To secure your spot, click here  and register.


Dawn Ius
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