Author Topic: Psychological Thriller writers --- PLEASE DEFINE THE GENRE FOR ME  (Read 862 times)  

Offline juliatheswede

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I started out 2018 well by writing a dark psychological thriller entitled BORN EVIL. It's very dark and twisted, but people seemed to like it as it sold a lot. Wrote two sequels that did well too. (Except for Bookbub, I do pretty much zero advertising.)

Wrote a couple more dark psychological thrillers and they're not performing well. One got great reviews, but sold terrible. My copy editor loved it and can't understand why it's not doing better. The second got mixed reviews, but sold better. My newest is not doing great either. I'm very confused. I thought I had this figured out after that first trilogy. I realize I must be doing something wrong, so I decided to read some current best-selling psychological thrillers.

Just finished Shalini Boland's The Secret Mother. Looks like it's the author's bestselling book. The book is perfectly well-written, but I can't see why this is billed as psychological thriller. Seriously, it's commercial women's fiction, light and feel-goody, and predictable. Nothing wrong with that, but how can anyone label this "psychological thriller"? Please correct me if I'm wrong, but I was under the impression that books like Gone Girl (anything by Gillian Flynn, which is always VERY dark), Girl on the Train, the movie Vertigo and Fight Club, I let you go by Claire McIntosh, Lucinda Berry's Phantom Limb and Appetite for Innocence just to name a few, were psychological thrillers. All more or less dark and with a great twist.

What happened to the psychological thriller genre??? Has it turned into commercial women's fiction?

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    Offline ShayneRutherford

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    Re: Psychological Thriller writers --- PLEASE DEFINE THE GENRE FOR ME
    « Reply #1 on: December 19, 2018, 06:23:11 pm »
    In the blurb for The Secret Mother, it says she's accused of kidnapping a child, and that her whole life is based on a lie. That seems exactly like what one should expect from a psychological thriller.
             

    Offline juliatheswede

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    Re: Psychological Thriller writers --- PLEASE DEFINE THE GENRE FOR ME
    « Reply #2 on: December 19, 2018, 06:34:01 pm »
    In the blurb for The Secret Mother, it says she's accused of kidnapping a child, and that her whole life is based on a lie. That seems exactly like what one should expect from a psychological thriller.

    I agree---kind of, as it could also be women's fiction--- and it intrigued me. However, it does not at all read like a psychological thriller. As I said, it reads like commercial women's fiction. I'm not knocking this book--obviously, it has done great--but it doesn't feel like the psychological thrillers I've read over the past few years (not all several years old, lots of current ones that I can't think of off the top of my head.) Maybe the genre has morphed into something different.
    Oh, another very recent psychological thriller that did very well is The Memory Watcher. Very dark and twisted.
    « Last Edit: December 19, 2018, 07:30:02 pm by juliatheswede »

    Offline ShayneRutherford

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    Re: Psychological Thriller writers --- PLEASE DEFINE THE GENRE FOR ME
    « Reply #3 on: December 19, 2018, 09:40:31 pm »
    I agree---kind of, as it could also be women's fiction--- and it intrigued me. However, it does not at all read like a psychological thriller. As I said, it reads like commercial women's fiction. I'm not knocking this book--obviously, it has done great--but it doesn't feel like the psychological thrillers I've read over the past few years (not all several years old, lots of current ones that I can't think of off the top of my head.) Maybe the genre has morphed into something different.
    Oh, another very recent psychological thriller that did very well is The Memory Watcher. Very dark and twisted.

    I don't read women's fiction, but I don't imagine there are too many women's fiction protagonists who find out they're secretly mothers.

    As far as I can tell there are a couple of things that fit the psych thriller genre. One, some sort of evil invades or is already in the main character's life. So, like, murdering kids and psychotic nannies, or husbands with dangerous secrets, that kind of thing. Two, a main character who has some sort of reason to doubt reality. Either because someone is playing games with them, or because they're crazy.
             

    Offline Decon

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    Re: Psychological Thriller writers --- PLEASE DEFINE THE GENRE FOR ME
    « Reply #4 on: December 20, 2018, 04:39:42 am »
    Unfortunately, psychological thrillers are in vogue and selling well, so it must be tempting to add the psychological tag on even the slimest connection to the genre. In my mind it is authors or publishers behaving badly and ruining the genre by adding the tag erroniously. However, on this occasion, the blurb does suggest a psychological thriller in its premise, even if the narrative and storyline doesn't live up to your expectations as a "dark" psychological thriller writer.

    Not sure I can put it into words, but there are various components that cover all thriller elements of suspense, mystery, a crime, horror, misdirection, twists, etc.

    I say horror, but what sets them apart is the the degree of descriptive violence in horror, whereas psychological thrillers are more about attacking a persons psyche rather than using violence. It used to be that the story line involved an antagonist using manipulative psychological tricks to control a hapless protagonist victim to steer events on a certain direction that would lead to the protagonists downfall, usually but not always, by bad decisions made by the victim in following the protagonists path set for them.

    Usually, the antagonist has some grudge as motivation and has psychological problems as well as the victim being in, or manipulated to be in a dysfunctional and vulnerable period of their life that they need to get a grip of to overcome the antagonists efforts to destroy them mentally, professionally, or whatever, and to overcome the antagonists efforts for the victim to win the day.

    I don't know the book in question, but it could be that the police or accusers are the antagonists and she is the victim who is mabye led to believe she has done what they say, along with the reader, when in fact she could be innocent. I'm thinking here in terms of the story of the police insisting that a child found and reunited with a mother who lost her child, is her child, when it isn't. This woman was put in a mental hospital because she wouldn't accept the child.

    If you have noticed, many psychological thrillers are now dubbed as "dark psychological thrillers" which is used as the sub title so they can be found in searches,(sometimes against Amazon TOC as some don't have it on the cover as part of the title.) Dark psychological thrillers are really selling well, but it is not listed as a genre, hence the reason for the sub title saying it is so, or in the blurb. It is just that they are at the dark disturbing traits end of the psychological thriller spectrum, one step away from being considered as horror.


    In search of Jessica - The Girl at the Window and- Deadly Journey in my signature are all examples of the dark psychological thriller, but they are all different in crafting yet still stick closely to the traits of the sub genre.

    Girl at the Window is my best seller just now, but they have all had their day in the charts.

    Anyway, you asked for a definition, which I have given as best I can, so I'd appreciate a response.
    « Last Edit: December 20, 2018, 11:12:26 am by Decon »


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    Offline juliatheswede

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    Re: Psychological Thriller writers --- PLEASE DEFINE THE GENRE FOR ME
    « Reply #5 on: December 20, 2018, 01:22:30 pm »
    I don't read women's fiction, but I don't imagine there are too many women's fiction protagonists who find out they're secretly mothers.

    As far as I can tell there are a couple of things that fit the psych thriller genre. One, some sort of evil invades or is already in the main character's life. So, like, murdering kids and psychotic nannies, or husbands with dangerous secrets, that kind of thing. Two, a main character who has some sort of reason to doubt reality. Either because someone is playing games with them, or because they're crazy.

    I read women's fiction and they definitely have family lies and secrets in them. Liane Moriarty is a very well-known successful women's fiction author (who has lots of secrets and lies in her stories). Again, it's not so much the blurb that's not psychological thriller-ish-- it is, that's one of the reasons I decided to read it-- it's the way the story is written that feels like women's fiction. Below, Decon gave a few suggestions how it be written if it was a true psychological thriller and it sure isn't written that way.

    Offline juliatheswede

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    Re: Psychological Thriller writers --- PLEASE DEFINE THE GENRE FOR ME
    « Reply #6 on: December 20, 2018, 01:39:10 pm »
    Unfortunately, psychological thrillers are in vogue and selling well, so it must be tempting to add the psychological tag on even the slimest connection to the genre. In my mind it is authors or publishers behaving badly and ruining the genre by adding the tag erroniously. However, on this occasion, the blurb does suggest a psychological thriller in its premise, even if the narrative and storyline doesn't live up to your expectations as a "dark" psychological thriller writer.

    Not sure I can put it into words, but there are various components that cover all thriller elements of suspense, mystery, a crime, horror, misdirection, twists, etc.

    I say horror, but what sets them apart is the the degree of descriptive violence in horror, whereas psychological thrillers are more about attacking a persons psyche rather than using violence. It used to be that the story line involved an antagonist using manipulative psychological tricks to control a hapless protagonist victim to steer events on a certain direction that would lead to the protagonists downfall, usually but not always, by bad decisions made by the victim in following the protagonists path set for them.

    Usually, the antagonist has some grudge as motivation and has psychological problems as well as the victim being in, or manipulated to be in a dysfunctional and vulnerable period of their life that they need to get a grip of to overcome the antagonists efforts to destroy them mentally, professionally, or whatever, and to overcome the antagonists efforts for the victim to win the day.

    I don't know the book in question, but it could be that the police or accusers are the antagonists and she is the victim who is mabye led to believe she has done what they say, along with the reader, when in fact she could be innocent. I'm thinking here in terms of the story of the police insisting that a child found and reunited with a mother who lost her child, is her child, when it isn't. This woman was put in a mental hospital because she wouldn't accept the child.

    If you have noticed, many psychological thrillers are now dubbed as "dark psychological thrillers" which is used as the sub title so they can be found in searches,(sometimes against Amazon TOC as some don't have it on the cover as part of the title.) Dark psychological thrillers are really selling well, but it is not listed as a genre, hence the reason for the sub title saying it is so, or in the blurb. It is just that they are at the dark disturbing traits end of the psychological thriller spectrum, one step away from being considered as horror.


    In search of Jessica - The Girl at the Window and- Deadly Journey in my signature are all examples of the dark psychological thriller, but they are all different in crafting yet still stick closely to the traits of the sub genre.

    Girl at the Window is my best seller just now, but they have all had their day in the charts.

    Anyway, you asked for a definition, which I have given as best I can, so I'd appreciate a response.

    Decon, the request for a definition was somewhat meant tongue-in-cheek, but obviously that isn't clear. I do know what a psychological thriller is---very much the way you describe it. Since I read the book in question, I can tell you there were weak attempts at making it seem like the mother was crazy, but I believe it was so obvious she wasn't that I'm surprised it's not called women's fiction. I expect a good twist somewhere when I read a psychological thriller. Anyway, as I have read several of the customer reviews and they don't agree with me, I'm left to think that what I used to think was a psychological thriller has morphed into something else. I know some ppl call this genre domestic thriller---which to me sounds like women's fiction---and maybe that's what ppl expect when they see the tag "psychological thriller" these days. Which means I need to make adjustments when categorizing my own books.

    Offline ShayneRutherford

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    Re: Psychological Thriller writers --- PLEASE DEFINE THE GENRE FOR ME
    « Reply #7 on: December 20, 2018, 02:41:09 pm »
    I read women's fiction and they definitely have family lies and secrets in them. Liane Moriarty is a very well-known successful women's fiction author (who has lots of secrets and lies in her stories). Again, it's not so much the blurb that's not psychological thriller-ish-- it is, that's one of the reasons I decided to read it-- it's the way the story is written that feels like women's fiction. Below, Decon gave a few suggestions how it be written if it was a true psychological thriller and it sure isn't written that way.

    I wasn't disagreeing about the family lies and secrets part. When I said I doubted too many MCs in women's fiction were finding out they were secret mothers, I meant because, while it's easy for a guy to not know he's a dad, it's pretty darn difficult for a woman to give birth and not know about it, so it's not really something that I would expect to crop up in women's fiction too often. Or at all. Maybe in thrillers involving brainwashing and cults, for example, but not so much in women's fiction.
             

    Offline ShayneRutherford

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    Re: Psychological Thriller writers --- PLEASE DEFINE THE GENRE FOR ME
    « Reply #8 on: December 20, 2018, 03:02:45 pm »
    I know some ppl call this genre domestic thriller---which to me sounds like women's fiction---and maybe that's what ppl expect when they see the tag "psychological thriller" these days. Which means I need to make adjustments when categorizing my own books.

    Unless I am very wrong about my definition of women's fiction, the genre doesn't generally have much in common with domestic thrillers. Linwood Barclay writes domestic thrillers, as does Harlan Coben. The domestic part is in reference to the fact that the story is small scale, and revolves around a person or a family dealing with some sort of crime or violence, either against their family or in their neighborhood. The stakes are personal, as opposed to large scale thrillers, where the stakes can often effect a country, or even the entire world. And while I've seen women's fiction that deals with the aftermath of crimes, I think it's usually about the healing process and learning to live with the trauma, whereas domestic thrillers deal with actually surviving the violence and saving one's family from the bad guy.

    https://www.amazon.com/Run-Away-Harlan-Coben-ebook/dp/B07F67CXPW/
    https://www.amazon.com/Too-Close-Home-Linwood-Barclay-ebook/dp/B001FA0W4I/

    Having said all that, though, with the way authors deliberately miscategorize their books in order to rank better, who knows what it means to write women's fiction these days.
             

    Offline juliatheswede

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    Re: Psychological Thriller writers --- PLEASE DEFINE THE GENRE FOR ME
    « Reply #9 on: December 21, 2018, 08:45:07 am »
    I wasn't disagreeing about the family lies and secrets part. When I said I doubted too many MCs in women's fiction were finding out they were secret mothers, I meant because, while it's easy for a guy to not know he's a dad, it's pretty darn difficult for a woman to give birth and not know about it, so it's not really something that I would expect to crop up in women's fiction too often. Or at all. Maybe in thrillers involving brainwashing and cults, for example, but not so much in women's fiction.

    Those examples you gave of domestic thrillers are very good, the kind I would read, so I will. In terms of Boland's The Secret Mother, it's really quite easy to figure out what's going on. (SPOILER: Don't read further if you don't want to know what happens in the book. Here goes: Her own kids died and the gynecologist who's the dad of the boy in her house switched the babies at the hospital) Several reviewers agree it was easy to figure out, but that it didn't spoil their reading pleasure (hence good ratings). Having read this commercially successfully book, I'm now thinking that  "psychological thriller" without the word "dark" before is more of a feel-good story targeted to women as opposed to an edgy one with a huge plot twist. It might just be that I'm good at figuring out plot twists since I write them myself. Most readers of this genre might not care about having a huge twist (I do).

    Offline ShayneRutherford

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    Re: Psychological Thriller writers --- PLEASE DEFINE THE GENRE FOR ME
    « Reply #10 on: December 21, 2018, 12:44:36 pm »
    Those examples you gave of domestic thrillers are very good, the kind I would read, so I will. In terms of Boland's The Secret Mother, it's really quite easy to figure out what's going on. (SPOILER: Don't read further if you don't want to know what happens in the book. Here goes: Her own kids died and the gynecologist who's the dad of the boy in her house switched the babies at the hospital) Several reviewers agree it was easy to figure out, but that it didn't spoil their reading pleasure (hence good ratings). Having read this commercially successfully book, I'm now thinking that  "psychological thriller" without the word "dark" before is more of a feel-good story targeted to women as opposed to an edgy one with a huge plot twist. It might just be that I'm good at figuring out plot twists since I write them myself. Most readers of this genre might not care about having a huge twist (I do).

    Okay, so I see your point. But the thing is, the story was obviously meant to have a twist ending. Just because it wasn't an especially difficult twist to figure out doesn't mean it wasn't a twist. Psychological thrillers have been around for quite a while now, and it's getting more and more difficult all the time to come up with twists that haven't been seen before but are actually still somewhat believable. Not to mention, when a book is advertised as having a huge twist ending, people are going to be looking for that twist with a magnifying glass, so chances are good that some people are going to figure it out early on.
             

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