Book Review: Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays

Slightly late on this one – Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays by Lucy V Hay came out a few  months ago, and I’ve been meaning to review it ever since… But finally, here we are!

Thrillers are one of the best genres for new writers to work in. They’re relatively cheap to make, can attract good audiences if the concept is strong enough, and well-written thriller roles can attract name actors.

Unfortunately, they’re also one of the hardest genres to write. They require a strong mastery of plot, but unless they have well-realised characters and original plot twists as well, they can fade into the thousands of other generic thrillers in your Netflix queue.

So what can we learn from Lucy V Hay to improve our chances as thriller writers?

The book starts with a definition of thrillers – an interesting one, actually, utilizing the “fight or flight” reflex as a primary reference. Hay then looks at the various sub-categories of the thriller, and common issues in spec thriller screenplays.

Where the book gets really interesting is in the characterization section. Hay addresses the overwhelmingly white, male, heterosexual nature of the thriller to date, pointing out that the white heterosexual male hero is often every bit as stereotyped as the female or gay characters. She points out that many thrillers only feature only one female character, as if being “the girl” was sufficient characterization for her, and as if having more than one female was somehow unnecessary. Then she takes an interesting look at atypical thriller characters, and how avoiding character clichés can strengthen your story.

The book then takes a look at writing the thriller screenplay, applying the usual structures and techniques in a specific thriller context. There’s good stuff here, especially if you’re not experienced at constructing and writing screenplays, but few of the structural pointers will be genuinely new to anyone to anyone who’s read other screenwriting guides.

Then there’s a section on getting the screenplay made – pitching, the workings of the industry, and a useful section on budget (it’s surprisingly hard for an inexperienced writer to tell what will be expensive and what won’t!) There’s also a useful section of writing resources and resources looking at the thriller.

So what’s the verdict?

Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays is an excellent reference for anyone starting to write and thinking of beginning with a thriller. It’s also a good quick catch-up for anyone wanting to check up on the basics before their next screenplay – and the section on characterisation applies across pretty much every genre. So if thrillers are a subject of interest to you, take a look!

Writing & Selling Thriller Screenplays by Lucy V Hay, in the Creative Essentials series from Kamera Books  (