July 20 – 26: “What is the primary job of a thriller?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Entertainment? Escapism? To provoke thought? This week we ask ITW members Lisa Harris, Otho Eskin, Dave Wickenden, Elizabeth Goddard, Haris Orkin, Buzz Bernard, Timothy Jay Smith, Jeffrey B. Burton, Elizabeth Rose, Paul D. Marks, Colin Campbell, Martin Roy Hill, Kit Frick, Carole Lawrence, TG Wolff, Mary Keliikoa, Emily Liebert and Laurie Stevens what is the primary job of a thriller? Check out this great group of authors and their latest novels below, and scroll down to the “comments” section to follow along. You won’t want to miss it!


Paul D. Marks is the author of the Shamus Award-Winning mystery-thriller White Heat. His short stories have won numerous awards: Windward was included in the Best American Mystery Stories of 2018 and won the Macavity Award. His story Ghosts of Bunker Hill was voted #1 in the 2016 Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Readers Award. Brendan DuBois, NY Times best-selling author, says Paul’s latest novel The Blues Don’t Care is “finely written” and “highly recommended.”


Multi-published in romance and romantic suspense, Elisabeth Rose lives very happily in Canberra with her musician husband. Travel is a big part of their lives now that the family has left home. Elisabeth’s original training was in clarinet performance, but she was also a tai chi instructor for 25 years. An avid reader, her preference is for a happy ending regardless of genre, and she is most annoyed if a main character dies or leaves—unless, of course, it’s the villain.


A lawyer and former diplomat, Otho Eskin served in the US Army and in the United States Foreign Service in Washington and in Syria, Yugoslavia, Iceland and Berlin (then the capital of the German Democratic Republic). He was Vice-Chairman of the US delegation to the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, participated in the negotiations on the International Space Station, was principal US negotiator of several international agreements on seabed mining and was the US representative to the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space. He speaks French, German and Serbo-Croatian. He was a frequent speaker at conferences and has testified before the US Congress and commissions. Otho Eskin has also written plays including: Act of God, Murder As A Fine Art, Duet, Julie, Final Analysis, Season In Hell, among others, which have been professionally produced in Washington, New York and in Europe. Otho is married and lives in Washington, DC.


Emily Liebert is the USA Today bestselling author of seven books—Facebook Fairytales, You Knew Me When, When We Fall, Those Secrets We Keep, Some Women, Pretty Revenge, and Perfectly Famous. Emily is also the Books Correspondent for Moffly Media, a Connecticut magazine conglomerate. She’s been featured often in the press by outlets such as: Today Show, The Rachael Ray Show, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, InStyle, and Good Housekeeping.


Ex-army, retired cop, and former scenes of crime officer, Colin Campbell served with the West Yorkshire police for 30 years. He is the author of the UK crime novels Blue Knight, White Cross and Northern Ex, and the US thrillers featuring rogue Yorkshire cop Jim Grant.



Haris Orkin is an author, playwright, screenwriter, and game writer. His play Dada premiered at The La Jolla Playhouse. A Saintly Switch was produced by Disney and directed by Peter Bogdanovich. His games have been nominated for the WGA Award and the BAFTA. His debut novel, You Only Live Once, was published by Imajin Books in 2018. The sequel, Once is Never Enough, was released in April.


Elizabeth Goddard is the bestselling author of more than 40 books, including Never Let Go, Always Look Twice, and the Carol Award–winning The Camera Never Lies. Her Mountain Cove series books have been finalists in the Daphne du Maurier Awards and the Carol Awards. Goddard is a seventh-generation Texan.


TG Wolff writes thrillers and mysteries that play within the gray area between good and bad, right and wrong. Cause and effect drive the stories, drawing from 20+ years’ experience in civil engineering, where “cause” is more often a symptom of a bigger, more challenging problem. Diverse characters mirror the complexities of real life and real people, balanced with a healthy dose of entertainment. T G Wolff holds a master’s degree in civil engineering and is a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.


Dave Wickenden has spent time in the Canadian Armed Forces before the Fire Service, so he’s as comfortable with a rocket launcher as a fire hose. He has brought six people back from the dead utilizing CPR and a defibrillator and has assisted in rescuing people in crisis. He has learnt to lead men and women in extreme environments. He loves to cook, read, and draw. Dave ran his own home-based custom art business creating highly detailed wood and paper burnings called pyrography. One of his pictures of former Prime Minister Jean Chretien graces the walls of Rideau Hall in Ottawa.


H. W. “Buzz” Bernard is a bestselling, award-winning novelist. Before becoming a novelist, Buzz worked at the Weather Channel as a senior meteorologist for 13 years. Prior to that, he served as a weather officer in the US Air Force for over three decades. He attained the rank of colonel and received, among other awards, the Legion of Merit. Buzz is a past president of the Southeastern Writers Association as well as a member of International Thriller Writers, the Atlanta Writers Club, Military Society Writers of America, and Willamette Writers.


Raised crisscrossing America pulling a small green trailer behind the family car, Timothy Jay Smith developed a ceaseless wanderlust that has taken him around the world many times. Polish cops and Greek fishermen, mercenaries and arms dealers, child prostitutes and wannabe terrorists, Indian Chiefs and Indian tailors: he hung with them all in an unparalleled international career that saw him smuggle banned plays from behind the Iron Curtain, maneuver through Occupied Territories, represent the U.S. at the highest levels of foreign governments, and stowaway aboard a ‘devil’s barge’ for a three-days crossing from Cape Verde that landed him in an African jail.


​Jeffrey B. Burton was born in Long Beach, California, grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, and received his BA in Journalism at the University of Minnesota. Novels in Burton’s Agent Drew Cady mystery series include: THE CHESSMAN, THE LYNCHPIN, and THE EULOGIST. His short stories have appeared in dozens of magazines. Jeff is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and the Horror Writers Association. He lives in St. Paul with his wife, an irate Pomeranian named Lucy, and a goofball of a Beagle named Milo.


Martin Roy Hill is the author of the Linus Schag, NCIS, thrillers, the Peter Brandt thrillers, DUTY: Suspense and Mystery Stories from the Cold War and Beyond, EDEN: A Sci-Fi Novella, Polar Melt: A Novel, and WAR STORIES, a nonfiction book on military history. His latest Linus Schag thriller, The Butcher’s Bill, was named the Best Mystery/Suspense Novel of 2017 by the Best Independent Book Awards, and received the Clue Award for Best Suspense Thriller from the Chanticleer International Book Awards and the Silver Medal for Thrillers from Readers Favorite Book Awards, and was the Winner for Adult Fiction in the 2018 California Authors Project.


Kit Frick is a novelist, poet, and MacDowell Colony fellow from Pittsburgh, Penn. She studied creative writing at Sarah Lawrence College and received her MFA from Syracuse University. When she isn’t putting complicated characters in impossible situations, Kit edits poetry and literary fiction for a small press and edits for private clients. She is the author of the young adult novels See All the Stars and All Eyes on Us, both from Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry Books, as well as the poetry collection A Small Rising Up in the Lungs from New American Press. Her third YA thriller, I KILLED ZOE SPANOS, will release on June 2, 2020.


Carole Lawrence is an award-winning novelist, poet, composer, playwright, and author of Edinburgh Twilight and Edinburgh Dusk in the Detective Inspector Ian Hamilton series, as well as six novellas and dozens of short stories, articles, and poems—many of which appear in translation internationally. She is a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee for poetry and winner of the Euphoria Poetry Prize, the Eve of St. Agnes Poetry Award, the Maxim Mazumdar playwriting prize, the Jerry Jazz Musician award for short fiction, and the Chronogram Literary Fiction Award. Her plays and musicals have been produced in several countries, as well as on NPR; her physics play Strings, nominated for an Innovative Theatre Award, was produced at the Kennedy Center. A Hawthornden Fellow, she is on the faculty of NYU and Gotham Writers, as well as the Cape Cod Writers Center and San Miguel Writers’ Conferences. She enjoys hiking, biking, horseback riding, and hunting for wild mushrooms.


Mary Keliikoa spent the first 18 years of her adult life working around lawyers. Combining her love of all things legal and books, she creates a twisting mystery where justice prevails. She is the author of the PI Kelly Pruett mystery series, which debuts with DERAILED in May 2020. At home in Washington, she enjoys spending time with her family and her writing companions/fur-kids, Bella, a bossy golden retriever, and August, her mischievous kitty. When she’s not at home, you can find Mary on a beach on the Big Island where she and her husband recharge. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun she’s plotting her next murder—novel, that is.


Laurie Stevens is the author of the Gabriel McRay thriller series. The books have won 12 awards, among them Kirkus Reviews Best of 2011 and a Random House Editors’ Book of the Month. When it comes to writing the “ultimate cat-and-mouse thriller” Suspense Magazine finds “Laurie Stevens to be the leader of the pack.” Laurie lives near the setting of her books, the Santa Monica Mountains, with her husband, two snakes, and a cat.


Lisa Harris is a bestselling author, a Christy Award winner, and the winner of the Best Inspirational Suspense Novel from Romantic Times for her novels Blood Covenant and Vendetta. The author of more than 40 books, including The Nikki Boyd Files and the Southern Crimes series, as well as Vanishing Point, A Secret to Die For, and Deadly Intentions. Harris and her family have spent over 16 years living as missionaries in southern Africa.



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  1. Entertainment is crucial. If we’re not entertaining our readers what are we doing? Boring them? Lecturing them? If readers are entertained they’re escaping from reality for a few hours into a new world of thrills and excitement where emotions are heightened, danger abounds but reader safety is assured. Sure, the subject of a thriller can be thought provoking and a reader can learn something along the way but I don’t think that is the primary goal.

  2. I had to think a lot about this question because each option has merit. When I choose a thriller, I am looking to be entertained. But entertainment for me equals escaping into a world of great characters, interesting ideas, and fast pace edge of your seat storytelling.

    That said, for a novel to resonate and have me in long discussions debating the characters and the actions taken in the book, it has to challenge my world view or the way I think on a subject. Whether it’s tackling politics, our treatment of our planet, corporate greed, or any number of areas, when it strikes a chord on a human level, I’m all in. So maybe the answer is a thriller is meant to primarily entertain, but when it incorporates all three elements, it has the ability to become particularly memorable.

  3. Before I ever wrote a thriller, I was a big fan of thrillers. I still am. (Which is why I’m thrilled to be part of ITW) I read thrillers to be entertained. Sometimes escapism is part of that, but not always. I recently read “The Border” by Don Winslow and there were multiple characters on multiple journeys. One was a young boy from the slums Guatemala on a harrowing journey across Mexico to America. There was nothing escapist about that. Sometimes I’m in the mood for grit and realism. I love reading thrillers by people who know firsthand what they’re writing about. (Like ex-police detectives and special operators.)

    On the other hand, I also love larger than life characters dealing with larger than life conflicts in glamorous and exotic locations. Characters who can sky dive and scuba dive and break into bank vaults and shoot the eye out of a flea at fifty yards. Characters who aren’t afraid to face down a trained assassin or a gang of bikers. (Me, I have anxiety just going to the supermarket lately.) Of course I also see the ridiculousness of those escapist power fantasies which is why I write the books I do. They are ripe for satire and I enjoy making fun of them by juxtaposing that kind of power fantasy with a hard dose of reality.

    Graham Greene wrote what he considered to be serious novels, but he also wrote “entertainments.”

    If a thriller isn’t entertaining, the reader won’t keep reading. I write humorous thrillers. My primary goal is to entertain and offer escape. If I purposely (or accidentally) can get a hat trick by dealing with real issues and provoking thought…all the better.

  4. A thriller brings the reader into the worlds and minds of its principal character or characters. There is often a single protagonist or two who are partners. From the opening pages, the protagonist is often thrown into dramatic context involving murder, suspense, and violence that put his or her own life at risk. The reader follows vicariously all the fast-paced twists and turns of the plot to learn what will transpire. In my debut thriller, THE REFLECTING POOL, the protagonist, Marko Zorn is a tough, cool homicide detective who doesn’t always play by the rules but outsmarts the villains he encounters. The world of this thriller is Washington, D.C. its gangs, its inner sanctum of the White House and the Secret Service.

    While a thriller should certainly be entertaining, it should also by default be thought-provoking and provide a vicarious adventure of the mind which is a form of escapism. A good example of one that does all three is the rich atmospheric THE ALIENIST by Caleb Carr.

  5. That’s an easy one. The primary job of a thriller is to thrill, so entertainment and escapism are top of the list. As the great Sam Goldwyn once said, “If you want to send a message, use Western Union.” Or more importantly, if you want to get a message across wrap it in entertainment. But it’s got to entertain first and foremost.

    Does that mean you can’t deal with thought provoking issues? Of course not. Just take a look at, In The Heat Of The Night. Great book and even better film. Hot-button topic even today. Would the race issue have been so widely discussed if the story hadn’t been entertaining? I doubt it. So, before you decide to get the world thinking about, sexism, racism, or whatever-the-hell-ism, you’d better make sure the world wants to read your story. In short, the question you have to ask yourself is the same one Russell Crowe asked in, Gladiator; “Are you not entertained?”

  6. I write the kind of books I like to read. I’m not big on escapism, though I’m sure that’s why a lot of people read—and in today’s world, who can blame them? I’d personally like to leave the planet and escape the daily drumroll of depressing politics and the pandemic, or get into a time machine that would let me go back to a less distressing era. But that’s not going to happen even through books.

    But entertaining and thought provoking? That’s the balance I try to achieve in my work, which I think somewhat sets me apart in the thriller genre—a classification with which I’ve never been entirely comfortable. ‘Thriller’ suggests plot-driven, and usually heavy on idealized male protagonists who overcome ever-mounting threats. I’m hoping my own writing is helping to redefine the genre to be less of both while still retaining an element of suspense.

    Since a young age, I’ve been driven by notions of social and economic justice. Before I became a full-time writer, I pursued a career (in the U.S. and internationally) in economic development for lower income people. That took me around the world many times, and it’s those experiences I draw on for my stories.

    I grew up a Zionist (though I’m not Jewish) and ended my career managing the U.S. Government’s first significant project to help Palestinian businesses in the immediate aftermath of the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords. I knew, understood, and appreciated the many dimensions of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and felt compelled to write about it. That became my first novel.

    I approach all my novels by first deciding what issue I want to illuminate for my readers. Then I decide on a core suspenseful plot that will let me do that without being heavy on message. Finally, I line up my characters to tell such a story. It’s the same with a playwriting prize I founded 15 years ago (the Smith Prize for Political Theater) which instructs emerging playwrights to dramatize a pressing issue of our time by showing how it affects people in personal ways.

    My latest novel is probably the most entertaining of my books, and that’s by choice. I’ve been going to Greece since 1972, spending a total of seven years of my life there, and Fire on the Island is my homage to that country which has given so much to me. It’s the story of how a village is coping with two national crises—a fiscal crisis and a refugee crisis—when a mysterious arsonist threatens to burn it down. While that sounds dark, in fact the book is full of humor, which is needed in these gloomy times.

    Does that foreshadow a change in emphasis in my thrillers, from less thought provoking to more entertaining? For the moment, it’s an open question.

  7. Hey, I’m all for provoking thought—and entertainment’s always good—but the primary job of a thriller is pure and simple escapism. Many moons ago, I got into a salary dispute at the company where I worked. As a result, I got demoted (that was oodles of fun) and found myself in an accelerated job hunt. I needed the paycheck to cover rent, so life was a bit miserable in the months it took to find a new job. During this period, I threw myself into the Mitch Rapp series and let Vince Flynn work his thriller magic. In fact, Flynn did such a great job, I started bringing his books to work to read during breaks and lunch. Flynn’s books offered great escapism—a way to take my mind off my situation—until I got hired elsewhere and was truly able to escape a toxic workplace.

  8. NYT bestselling author and four-time Shamus Award winner Reed Farrel Coleman told

    me, along with a group of other novelists, a couple of years ago, “Make no mistake about it, we’re in the entertainment business.”

    Steve Berry, one of the cofounders of ITW, has his 12 rules of writing, but I remember only the first two: 1) there are no rules, and 2)—the most important one— TELL A GOOD STORY.

    There’s no question in my mind that as a thriller (or mystery or suspense) writer, or even as a spinner of historical fiction dramas—my new-found genre—your primary job is to entertain.

    And entertainment to me is carrying readers away to different places and different times and placing them in situations they could never have previously imagined.

    It’s okay for thrillers to be thought-provoking or educational, but that should never be the focus of a thriller. And it’s okay for a story to have characters who hold specific religious, political, or philosophical viewpoints, but the should never be the focus a story meant to thrill.

    As a purveyor of thrills, my focus is always on getting my reader so engrossed in a tale they can’t wait to turn the page. (Or read my next book.)

  9. Ideally I like to do all three: entertain, offer escapism and provoke thought. But my first goal is to entertain. That said, I write different kinds of things, from hardboiled, noir and traditional, to humorous. But even the humorous stories, which are mostly satire, and mostly meant to entertain, sometimes have more of a “message” somewhere under the top layer.

    And whenever something like this comes up I’m reminded of two things: What Sam Goldwyn – the G in MGM/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer – said about messages in movies and the classic Preston Sturges movie Sullivan’s Travels from 1941, starring Joel McCrae and Veronica Lake. Goldwyn is reported to have said, “If you want to send a message use Western Union”. Which brings me to Sullivan’s Travels. McCrea plays a movie director who makes trifles like Ants in Your Plants of 1939, but wants to make a serious, ponderous movie called Oh Brother Where Art Thou about the plight of the downtrodden, that the studio is against. When he’s told he knows nothing about being downtrodden he decides to find out what it’s like. He has the studio costume department outfit him like a hobo and hits the road to see what life is like for the down and out, getting much more reality than he bargained for. But ultimately what he finds is that those who are really down and out don’t want stories about that, they want to laugh—to be entertained.

    So my number one goal is to entertain. To bring the reader on a roller coaster ride that’s thrilling and fun. That said, of course there are some themes and/or underlying messages that come across in my work. And though my novels are noir-thriller-mysteries there’s usually something of an underlying theme. And some of those themes I’ve revisited in several projects.

    I don’t think most readers want to be preached to, even if they agree with the message, especially in a genre story. At the very least, messages shouldn’t be heavy handed. And the prime purpose for a story should be to entertain. So if we’re going to have a “message,” keep it low. Let the characters be who they are and not some cardboard fill in for your rants. And most of all be entertaining.

    And that’s my 9 cents (increased for inflation) on the subject.

    1. I love your answer. “Sullivan’s Travels” has always been a huge inspiration to me. I started as a playwright and screenwriter who mainly wrote comedies and I loved Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder and Chaplin and the Marx Brothers and Mel Brooks and Monty Python. At one point, in my younger days, I wondered if writing comedy was a frivolous pursuit. But Sturges showed me how important comedy can be to people. Life is often hard and harrowing and sad, so lightening someone’s day with a laugh or a smile is no small thing. It doesn’t mean you can’t explore important issues or deal with sadness or tragedy. I believe the best humor often deals with dark and difficult issues. Sometimes the best way to illuminate those issues and spur thought is to highlight life’s absurdity. Strangely, I feel like my biggest influences as a writer might be Raymond Chandler, Ian Fleming, Elmore Leonard, and Kurt Vonnegut. Vonnegut often explored horrifying tragedy in a very funny way.

      1. Thanks, Harris. Sounds like we have a lot in common. I think many of us wonder if what we’re doing is frivolous. But what can be better than entertaining people and helping them escape some of the hardships of life? Raymond Chandler is also one of my main influences. And I agree that Vonnegut explores some tough issues in a way that is both entertaining and serious at the same time.

  10. When I sit down to write a novel, my goal is always foremost to entertain and craft a story that keeps my readers up late, turning the page. But I also find the genre a great set up to have my characters pulled into situation where they are faced to deal with the realities of real world issues. I’ve dealt with a number of situations like human trafficking, bio weapons, and organ harvesting that are thought provoking for the reader. In fact, sometimes they deal with things that my readers have never even heard of and it’s eye-opening for them. It’s a balance I strive to create, because I don’t want my stories to be issue-driven, but having my characters grapple with these kinds of situations does result in upping the overall stakes and tension of the story.

  11. I love this question because I’m always thinking about it when I’m developing a new story concept. Bottom line, it’s both—thrillers can and should entertain and be fun to read! But thrillers can also walk and chew gum. When writing crime fiction, it’s impossible not to look at the intersection of the crime you’re writing about and race, class, sex, age, and other issues of identity as they relate to the victim(s), perpetrator, law enforcement, and other involved entities.

    My newest book, I Killed Zoe Spanos, deals with a lot of the questions I struggle with myself as an avid consumer of true crime media—whose stories get told, and how, and to what end. I hope readers will come away from the book thinking deeply about those questions while also experiencing the thrill of a twisty summer read. I think that’s what I’m looking for as a reader of thrillers as well. I come to a book to be entertained and escape into a suspenseful world for a while, otherwise I’m not going to stick with the read, but it’s often the broader issues of crime and criminality as they intersect with the characters that will keep me thinking about the story long after I’ve finished reading.

  12. Without a doubt, the primary role of a thriller is to entertain readers. If a book isn’t entertaining, why would readers pick it up in the first place? An entertaining book provides the reader an escape from the realities of everyday life, especially in these days of the novel coronavirus. But that doesn’t mean a thriller can’t be thought-provoking.

    Getting into the Way-Back Machine and looking at some of our ancestral authors, we can find some great thought-provoking thrillers. Mary Shelley’s Gothic thriller Frankenstein questions the meaning of life and the morality of trying to create it. H. G. Wells’ sci-fi thriller The War of the Worlds is a thinly veiled commentary on European colonialism and questions the right and morality of nations conquering less advanced populations. Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim isn’t taught in English lit classes as a thriller, but it is one exciting, action-packed adventure story. At the same time, its plot involving a disgraced seaman seeking redemption raises questions of courage, cowardice, trust, and betrayal.

    Moving back to contemporary times: In Cormac McCarthy’s neo-western thriller, No Country for Old Men, a drug deal gone wrong launches a manhunt for a cache of stolen drug money that pits cartel hitmen, a troubled lawman, and a dishonest hunter against each other. The novel throws out the old western good-guy vs bad-guys theme and raises questions about ethics and redemption.

    Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is a rip-roaring page turner, but it also entertains thoughtful questions about divinity. To wit: If Jesus had descendants, does that mean his teachings are not divinely inspired?

    My most recent Peter Brandt thriller, The Fourth Rising, revisits the post-WWII idea that the Nazi Party did not die with the surrender of Germany in 1945. It’s a familiar road travelled by Frederick Forsyth’s The Odessa File, Ira Levin’s The Boys from Brazil, and Roundtable host J. H. Bográn’s latest thriller, Heir of Evil. Together they raise questions about the undying evil of Nazism that still plagues the world today.

    But thought-provoking questions don’t sell books. Without readers, the questions can never provoke thoughts. So, indeed, I think the primary job of a thriller is to entertain.

    1. Your post made me think about themes in thrillers and how some story lines just don’t appeal to me no matter how exciting the story eg I read The Da Vinci Code but religious questions such as that leave me cold. Thought provoking for christians and particularly catholics, yes, but not for me because the basic premise isn’t something I care about.

      We’ve been watching the fabulous French TV series Le Bureau. it’s fascinating to have another angle on Intelligence services other than US, Russian and British although they are mentioned of course. There all sorts of moral questions raised and loyalties strained and tested which makes for thought provoking, intelligent and thrilling viewing. Entertainment at its best.

      1. It is certainly interesting to consider the role that thought provoking premises play into a thriller’s entertainment value. For some readers, entertainment is entirely contingent on that thought provoking premise, thus both factors are key to garner and keep the reader’s attention by creating the other.

      2. Your comment reminded me of a lady who left a review of my book Eden: A Sci-Fi Novella, which deals with an American army patrol that stumbles on the truth behind the origins of humankind in Iraq and was inspired by the so-called ancient alien theories. She said she loved the book and enjoyed reading it, but was giving me only three stars because she was a Christian. You win some, you lose some.

        1. Haha, very true, Martin It’s hard to become absorbed in a story where the characters are trying to achieve a goal you don’t find important though. I kept thinking ‘why bother?’ My book group read a book based on an art theft / forgery and a few of us didn’t think the author explained how the original theft was done. For us there was a massive plot hole right at the start so the rest of the book was pointless. One group member said, ‘Oh that didn’t bother me, that’s being pedantic because you’re a writer. Just enjoy the story.’ So there you go–no need to work hard on those plot holes, some readers won’t mind! 🙂

  13. As someone who’s written narrative non-fiction, memoir, women’s fiction, and thrillers, I’ve never been more motivated to entertain than with my thrillers. Yes, of course, escapism is always the goal with fiction, but–in my opinion–a fast-paced plot, including plenty of twists and turns, is essential. Readers of thrillers want to be constantly engaged. Breathless, even.

    Provoking thought is also important, because you want your readers to think about every decision and to question your characters motives along the way, but–as everyone else said–entertainment is the number one job of a thriller!

  14. Running down a dark alley or sneaking into an old abandoned fun house, combined with an element of danger speaks to a flight/fight response in each and every one of us. It’s good to exercise that muscle in the safe environment of fiction. In that regards, it’s pure entertainment.

    With so much tension going on in today’s world, however, the thriller may take on a new role entirely. Does it merely provide escapism? Or maybe, in this day and age, the thriller mirrors our fears and insecurities, and plays them out before us. Maybe we can see and identify them more clearly that way.
    When I wrote the Gabriel McRay series, I set out to tackle the psychology behind PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and I most definitely had a message to deliver about the work a person must do to venture from victim to survivor.

    I’d be interested to hear from this group what role the thriller can take on, given the history-making strange times we find ourselves living in,

    1. So besides writing novels, I also create narratives for video games. Some of these are well known horror titles and some of those deal with post-apocalyptic scenarios. Surviving in an post-apocalyptic landscape is a video game trope at this point, and I believe that’s because some of the most popular and best-selling games give players an opportunity to play out and live through those fears and triumph and survive. With the world the way it is you wouldn’t think people would want to escape by plunging themselves deeper into horror. But it’s a safe way to work through those fears. I worked on Tom Clancy’s The Division, which is about an out of control virus that causes society to completely collapse. It’s almost a little too close to what we’re all dealing with now, but players find it cathartic. In that in the game, unlike in life, they feel like they have some measure of control. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yPq_NVi-TC4

      1. I find it very interesting that players take catharsis in a game so similar to our dark times. In the past, movie goers have tended to seek out happier films during wartime; this difference seems to speak to the differing ways that viewers versus gamers interact with their medias. I’m curious. Could gaming play in PTSD treatment? Could it be a proactive way of dealing with the stress we’re under now which could otherwise later become traumas?

        1. Funny you should ask that. I was involved in a play festival in at the University at Chapel Hill in North Carolina. They were all plays about the collision between digital worlds and our actual world. One play was about one such program that actually exists. I worked with them in Southern California. It’s still experimental, but they’re creating virtual reality re-creations of traumas that soldiers experienced. The soldiers than work with therapists who guide them through these re-created memories as a way to deal with this trauma and work through it. It’s called exposure therapy and this program was partially funded by the Department of Defense. It was created by a guy named Skip Rizzo. https://www.soldierstrong.org/strongmind/

          1. I spent 16 years as a Navy analyst in combat casualty care until I retired last year. I remember the virtual simulation treatment for PTSD you mention. It was fascinating. Virtually recreating the trauma helped service members learn to deal with physical and emotional trauma they incurred.

    2. Regarding the strange times in which we find ourselves living in, a friend of mine made the point that TV shows and movies will have to address or reference COVID-19 in some manner or form. Likely true for novels as well.

      1. I’ve been working on a new novel, the third in the Flynn series, and I wrestled with that question because it probably won’t bet out until next Spring. I decided to set it in a non-Covid 19 world because the story as written wouldn’t work as well in a world with Covid. I am curious how others are dealing with that.

        1. I’ve got THE KEEPERS coming out next summer, but it was already written and in the pipeline pre-COVID. Hoping that it’s behind us by 2022, I may have some casual references to it in the next novel.

      2. Setting a scene during a pandemic certainly hikes pulses right off the bat, but I’m wondering if too many writers will jump on that bandwagon. And there are readers who want to go anywhere else in a book other than to COVID-19.

        1. You hit it on the nose, Laurie. Right from the beginning of the pandemic, I heard about writers – both novelists and screenwriters – talk about using it as a plot device. But as Otho say, A Covid book during the Covid crisis isn’t going to offer much escape.

        2. The problem is (most likely) that by the time the book comes out through normal publishing channels Covid will be past. It’s very hard to be ahead of the curve.

        3. Yes! I’ve been asked numerous times on my latest book tour (virtual of course) if I’ll be including Covid in my current WIP. The answer is no. I don’t think people will want to read about it while immersed or, especially, after. I started writing it pre-Covid, so I’m keeping it Covid-free.

    3. I was recently editing a book for a friend and she had the story set post-Covid, but referenced it in the book as that crazy time when the world was shut down. I thought that was a good way to handle it if someone didn’t want to set their story in the moment. Hopefully we’ll be able to say “way back when” sooner than later!

  15. I definitely believe that there is an entertainment and escapism element to a thriller, but I think it allows the reader to experience the thrill of danger from the safety of their favorite reading chair. Most people do not face danger in their daily and a thriller gives them a chance to feel a jolt of excitement and adrenalin. It’s the same reason people flock to roller coasters. They crave the rush.

    I also think it is a way to face our fears and social injustices. In most thrillers the bad guy almost always gets caught, the guilty get their just deserts and we feel satisfaction when it happens because in the real world this doesn’t happen as much as we like.

    I have found some of the best stories also teach the reader about topics we would never have known about. It could be historical, a different culture or some amazing science that the layperson would never of encountered.

    1. You’re right, David. Readers want the rush from the safety of their own chairs. I spent more than 20 years in three branches of the military reserves. I’ve done maritime search and rescue (SAR) in the Coast Guard and wilderness SAR with the local sheriff’s SAR team, as well as served on a federal disaster response team. I’ve jumped out of airplanes. And a lot of the time I was looking for that rush. What I got was a lot of waiting, a lot of getting dirty and rained on, a lot of exhaustion, and occasional scares. I still like to read and write thrillers because they’re more exciting than real life dangers.

  16. I’ve heard that thrillers are meant for adrenaline junkies and entertainment, and in contrast, escapism is meant for those who want to escape their reality. In my opinion, entertainment and escape don’t have to be mutually exclusive, and can, in fact, happen simultaneously. If a thriller provokes thought, that’s just gravy. I love James Rollins thrillers—he often provides the historical and scientific notes and bases his premise off obscure facts, which I find intriguing. That to say that a thriller can be entertaining, offer an escape, and also be thought-provoking. But that’s more an exception than a rule. When I read thrillers, I want to be caught up in an adrenaline rush, which is the primary job of a thriller, and yet this also serves as an escape for me.

  17. So many interesting comments and responses here that it’s hard to find anything left unsaid! But I often think of Kenneth Burke’s wise words, “Stories are equipment for living.”

    While it’s true that most of us won’t face serial killers, political conspirators or assassins in the course of our everyday lives, we all face challenges that require the character traits of a good thriller hero, qualities such as analytical skills, calm, cunning, perseverance, selflessness, and above all, courage, that indispensable virtue which makes all others possible.

    So entertainment, absolutely – all the while absorbing the lessons of a good story, and unconsciously working on our equipment for living.

  18. I am in the entertainment camp for this simple reason…no one will get to the escapism or the provoking point if they are bored.

    Each writer will have a different secondary purpose- to provide an escape, to promote thought, to educate, to engage, to inform point of view. The secondary purpose can score very, very close to entertainment on our non-existent scale, but if entertainment becomes secondary, the number of DNF or I’ll-wait-for-the-movie increases. People who read primarily for thought promotion, education, etc., tend to read non-fiction.

    Escapism and entertainment are two sides of the same coin for me. Escaping into a book of any genre happens when you are entertained. Again, you can’t crawl into a book if you are bored.

  19. I agree with TG Wolff. I see entertainment and escapism as working hand-in-glove. As a reader, you are entertained if you are able to escape into a time, a place, or a situation that you never been in. As a writer, I feel the same way. For reasons beyond COVID-19–and no, I don’t want to write or read any novels about it–this has been a crushing year for me. I could have easily spiraled into a black hole. But I forced myself to start writing again, and it worked! It carried me away to other places and other times (I write historical fiction set in WWII) and out of the miasma of getting through another day with nothing much to look forward to. I hope what I write will bear others away into the excitement of an adventure they never dreamed of . . . at least for a little while.

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