When Sutapa Basu Talks About Penning Terrific Psychological Thrillers


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Crime writing is an adrenalin-inducing genre of writing. Readomania has a big and proud list of authors and titles from the genre of crime writing and is bringing them all together for the Crime Writing Festival 2019 in the month of May. Throughout this month, every Tuesday and Thursday, Readomania’s thriller authors will feature in live Twitter discussions and answer budding authors’ questions on everything ‘thrilling’.

The Readomania Crime Writing Festival will also hold a contest on the best ‘original short crime fiction’, the winner of which will receive an ebook publishing deal with Readomania’s digital imprint, ReadoShots. There will also be book giveaways to the best question asked twice every week.

So, be on Twitter this whole month of May and tune in to the Readomania Crime Writing Festival 2019.

The first session of the on   was by on May 2.

Here Sutapa Maam shares some of her thoughts on penning a psychological thriller.

1. What made you choose a psychological thriller as your first offering?

           Since I have been reading thrillers since childhood and the psychological thriller has been my favorite genre, I felt it would be best, to begin with, the kind of fiction that I knew about better than most others.

2. What makes a good thriller? What are the aspects one must take care of while penning one? Using ‘Dangle’ can you elucidate further?

Any good thriller must have the following plot elements.

  1. Mystery: When violence occurs before the story begins
  2. Horror: Readers see the violence happening
  3. Suspense: Readers anticipate that violence will happen.

One must take care to see that psychological thrillers are a good mix of mystery, horror, action, and drama. Have a simple concept as well as theme. Develop characters that readers would come across in their everyday lives. In Dangle, the protagonist is around 25-26 years. She is a smart, urban, female professional. There are lots of girls like her in all Indian cities today. I felt this familiarity would help readers relate to her. Once they identified with the protagonist, they could easily become emotionally engrossed in her conflicts.

The theme of Dangle revolves around family relationships and the secrets that remain in a family. Families almost always have complex dynamics. Readers would easily imagine themselves in a situation to the one that the protagonist is struggling with in Dangle and try to think about how they would react to it.

3. How does one maintain the taut pace that requires the novel to be a thrilling page-turner? What are the beginner pitfalls one must avoid while penning?

A fast pace is essential for a thriller to be a page-turner. A few ways to get it in your story are these.

  1.  Summarize. Don’t give long explanations.
  2.  Use short words, sentences, paragraphs, events, scenes, and chapters. Even single word sentences are good for impact.
  3. Describe sections of action. Don’t go into long descriptions of how, when and where.
  4. Delay an outcome. Let the reader’s questions pile up and tension build up.
  5. Use dialogue. To reveal something, let there be a conversation between characters rather than tell it all in a couple of sentences.

I also paced the discovery of information. When I answered some questions that the reader had, I threw in a few more questions or red herrings to distract the reader.

One of the pitfalls for beginner authors of psychological thrillers is to put in too much violence. Remember a great deal of violence takes away its impact. So be judicious with it.

4. How important are the setting and characterization? Should they be noble, distorted or just grey? How many strong characters should the novel have to balance the yin and yang? How have you achieved the same in ‘Dangle’?

   Setting and characterization in a thriller are very important. In fact, the setting is used to bring in suspense. Both these elements should be definite but if a character is being distorted there should be a purpose to it that must be revealed to the reader somewhere in the story.

Too many characters in a thriller can confuse the reader and dilute the storyline.

              In Dangle there are three strong characters. Each one balances the other. The peripheral characters have a purpose. Either they add to the main protagonist’s attempt at self-discovery or to the setting and plot. Each character comes into the story with a definite purpose.

5. What is the relevance of language for Crime-Fiction-Writing? Is it necessary to be verbose or would ‘being-terse’ work better?  Please also share how you have achieved your phenomenal language skills.

        Language is all important in Crime Fiction Writing for it is the tool to create suspense and thrill. Long introspective paragraphs should be avoided. Keep sentences and chapters short. Even one-word sentences are impactful. It is prudent to avoid too many adjectives and adverbs.

I don’t know if my language skills are phenomenal but believe they have emerged from reading and writing at a very young age. I began writing around 7 years of age and read books much before that.

6. How essential are hooks? How should an ideal Crime fiction novel end? Tantalizingly open-ended or all ends neatly sewn up? If you were to rewrite ‘Dangle’ what would you change?

 Hooks are absolute. Ideally, they should be one at the end of every chapter. There are no rules as to how a Crime Fiction should end. While the questions relating to the plot should certainly be sewn up, one can always open up a new avenue at the end and let the reader chew on the idea.

I don’t think I would change anything in Dangle.

7. How imperative is reading your peers to fine-tune your craft?

    I don’t know what you mean by ‘peers’ but I believe in reading most present-day authors to discover new styles and voices. I was completely bowled over by Claire Mackintosh’s I Let You Go and the way she inserted a brilliant twist midway in her thriller. I wish I could do the same in my thrillers.

8. Who are your favorite thriller writers and why?

My favorite thriller writers are Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King, Dan Brown, Stieg Larsson, Arthur Conan Doyle, Daniel Silva, Claire Mackintosh, Jeffery Archer, Ken Follet.

I like reading their books because their twists are invariably unexpected and unimaginable. The books are racy and don’t let up on the tension.

Having said, I must add that the thriller element is also present in other genres and I have enjoyed both reading those kinds of books and writing them. Both my historical novels, Padmavati, The Legend of Genghis Khan and the new one in the pipeline have twists just like ones in thrillers.

9. What advice would you give a budding writer?

  1. Read, read, read the kind of story that you want to write.
  2. Do not copy anybody’s style. Develop your own voice.
  3. Take your writing seriously. It is not a hobby. If you don’t take it seriously nobody else will.
  4. Edit and rewrite several times. Never show your first draft to anyone.


Here’s the link to Sutapa ma’am’s live session. Do check it.

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