Over the last couple of days, our local chapter of Sisters in Crime has been having an ongoing conversation on our listserv about thrillers. We started out talking about one thriller in particular that was getting a lot of buzz in the industry, then we got onto the topic of thrillers in general. Some of the chat spilled over into my critique group meeting last night. It's been interesting, and I thought it might make a good blog topic.
So, what exactly is a thriller? It seems like an easy question, but if you ask ten people, you'll probably get more than one answer. It used to be that thrillers were "spy books" or similar books with catastrophic consequences on a global scale, but now the genre covers a lot more than that. There are now serial killer thrillers, domestic thrillers, police thrillers, etc. Some books are labeled thrillers that in the past would have just been called mysteries.
If you walk into any Walmart or Target store, most of the books you see are thrillers. I'm sure there will always be a market for these books, but won't it get to the point where readers are looking for something different? And what can the authors of these books do to distinguish their story from the thousands of others on the market? Some do it by stretching the limits of what has always been acceptable, like using serial killers for protagonists. Some are using graphic torture scenes. Others are writing sex scenes that not only border on erotica, they are erotica.
In my opinion, the best thing an author can do to distinguish their book from all the others is good writing and great characters. If I don't care about what happens to a character, I'm not going to care about anything else. Plot can only take a book so far. I want to think about the characters long after I finish a book.
What does everyone else think? Are some books going too far to be different? How should a writer distinguish their book from all the others?