January 27 – February 2: “What can thriller writers learn from the film industry?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Many books are optioned, although not many are actually turned into feature length films. This week ITW members David William Pearce, J. H. Bográn, Lisa Black and Kathryn Lane discuss what thriller writers can learn from the film industry. Scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along. You won’t want to miss it!


Lisa Black spent the five happiest years of her life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist at the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office, she analyzed many forms of trace evidence as well as crime scenes. Now she’s a certified latent print examiner and CSI in Florida and is the author of 14 traditionally published novels. Some have been translated into six other languages, one reached the New York Times bestsellers list, and one has been optioned for film.


Kathryn Lane, originally from Mexico, took the long road to becoming an author. An artist in her early years, she became a certified public accountant to earn a living and went on to a career in international finance with a major multinational corporation. In her writing, she draws deeply from the prism of her experiences growing up in a small town in northern Mexico as well as her work and travel in over ninety countries around the globe.


An engineer for 40 years, David William Pearce, following open heart surgery, decided to pursue his muse and write. After completing a debut novel, Mr. Pearce so enjoyed the experience that he began writing the Monk Buttman series. When not writing, Mr. Pearce is the accomplished recording artist Mr. Primitive. He and his wife live in Kenmore, Washington.


J. H. Bográn is an international author of novels, short stories and scripts for television and film. He’s the son of a journalist, but ironically prefers to write fiction rather than facts. His genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. He currently divides his time as resource development manager for Habitat for Humanity Honduras, teaching classes at a local university, and writing his next project. He lives in San Pedro Sula, Honduras with his wife, three sons and a “Lucky” dog. His motto is “I never tell lies, I only write them!”


  1. What stands out to me from the film industry, especially these days, is pacing. If you re-watch movies from the 70s, like novels from the 1800s, they don’t move very quickly. More than once I’ve watched some icon from film history and thought, ‘Everyone thought THIS was such a great movie?’ but at the time that pacing was normal. Maybe people had more patience and less distraction, or maybe they were just used to it. Then came Steven Spielberg, whose films never lagged, and things changed.
    Thriller writers have to do the same. Because attention spans have changed and distractions have increased, so the wisdom ‘backstory belongs later’ has never been more true.

    1. I agree with you. Except, I still see some godawful boring films, Roma and The Irishman come to mind.
      Thus, I think the comments, or the lessons to learn, would be genre-wise. You know, to compare apples with apples. Thriller novelists can learn a lot from films like Die Hard, Kill Bill, or more recently, Knives Out.

  2. For me, and I imagine those of us who have grown up in the age of TV and cinema, film brings its weight to how we tend to see stories as we read them. We now longer have to vividly describe scenes or locations if we choose not to, or we can use the vast store of visuals that film bring to the reader. As an example, I didn’t feel the need to overly play out the visual of LA in my Monk stories, or rural Virginia or Oklahoma, as they more than likely have formed their own view of these places from all of the TV and movies they’ve seen. I agree the influence of pacing from films often carries into the thriller genre these days, though I think that depends on the kind of thriller you’re writing.
    When I edit,I like to think about my stories as a film and use that as a guide for how it flows and how readers might possibly imagine it. I also think that’s a good way to approach any gotcha moments to see if they’ll work the way you want then to.

    1. Interesting point. I never thought of relaying on readers’ preconceptions based from other media.
      I love the early Tom Clancy novels and recall how he used to make a point with his John Kelly character that real-life missions–as real as depicted in a novel, obviously–were very different from what is shown in film!

      1. Maybe a better way to say it is that I anticipate, and accept, that TV and film will consciously or unconsciously influence a reader especially when a place like LA, which has been extensively featured, is the setting for a book.

  3. Thriller writers can learn about timing from the film industry. Timing is important in building suspense. In film, we “see” how scenes develop to put the viewer on the edge of a seat. And yes, suspenseful music in films helps the visual imagery to become even more grabbing, but an author can write his scenes in a more visceral, tense, and suspenseful manner by thinking in visual terms and describing the scenes, a la Stephen King.
    Another lesson for thriller writers, if they option their work for films/TV series and if they are lucky enough to have their work produced into film or television, is that their book is not sacrosanct when it’s translated to the screen – their scenes, characters, even the ending can be changed.

    1. Oh, yes. Absolutely. In fact, we’ve heard of authors distancing themselves from films/series based on their work; Jean M. Auel and Clive Cussler come to mind.

    2. Very true, but I also think that film adaptations can lead readers to the books themselves. If it hadn’t been for Bogart and Stanwyck, I wouldn’t have discovered Chandler, Hammett, and Cain otherwise. And, in many ways, I find the books far more enjoyable.

        1. With digital media, it wouldn’t even be that hard…. I’ll make a prediction, 10 years from now it will be standard in ebooks. You get to a page and the music fades in. There could even be facial recognition software watching the movements of your eyes to see where you are on the page and coordinate appropriately. And like the background music in a video game, you could turn it off if it got annoying.
          They already have a little music in audiobooks—they’d just have to be careful not to drown out the narration.

    3. Michael Connelly said in a recent author talk I attended that in one of the Harry Bosch episodes he’d written a fight in a helicopter–I’d seen the show and read that story and both versions were really gripping– but writing it was easy compared to filming it and the cost was exorbitant to the point where they pleaded with him not to write any more scenes like that.

  4. David, I agree movie and television adaptations lead readers to discover books and authors. Books provide more description of characters, events, locations, or mental and even the psychological or mental state of a character. Books include details that have to be left out of a film adaptation due to time constraints or to move the movie along. For those of us who love the written word, that can be far more satisfying!

    1. Very true, and I think that’s part of the impetus for these short series that are popping up on Netflix, Amazon, and the like-the time to stretch out and explore more of the characters, motivations, skeletons, etc.

      1. And for those TV series that span several seasons, viewers get hooked on certain characters/stories, and anxiously await the next season. Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch immediately comes to mind. Fans of certain authors also await the next sequel – did the film industry adopt this from authors? Or was it the other way around?

        1. I think it’s a little of both. With authors like Connelly, who have a lots of books with that character, there’s more to choose from, or the option to have the TV series complement the books. The opposite problem is like with George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, where the producers decided to go ahead with their own version because he was too slow in producing the next book.

          1. Ah, but after George R.R. Martin deposited millions from Game of Thrones, he might just be enjoying himself. Not a bad thing to do! And enjoying his creative enterprise “Meow Wolf” – a different type of storytelling venture. The House of Eternal Return is a visual delight of neon lights and singing mushrooms.

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