What is a thriller?


Last year I was honored to be a judge for the Thriller Award of the International Thriller Writers Organization. There was some discussion over the fact that there were no women authors nominated for the award in any category. Well, the awards will be given out again next year and I want to encourage all authors- female and male- to make sure your books are submitted for consideration IF YOU WRITE THRILLERS. Which leads me to my next topic of discussion- what is a thriller?

I have moderated a couple of panels at Bouchercon that took on this question. Answers ranged from David Morrell’s simplistic one of "Any book that thrills" to more complex explanations such as those that attempt to explain the difference between a mystery and a thriller. A mystery is an attempt to discover who did it and why. A thriller attempts to prevent it from occurring. There was a panel at Thrillerfest that also attempted to answer this difficult question. To them it was really all about pacing. The plot of these books simply must move very quickly. Therefore writers such as Sara Paretsky do not write thrillers but crime novels. The plots in her books are slow and quite complex. To be honest, I find the thriller question to be almost like discussing religion or politics. It is near impossible for all to agree. It is almost as if we should say in reference to these thrillers- ‘you will know it when you see it’.