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Book Genre Spotlight: Psychological Thrillers

October 11, 2023 (Last Updated October 11, 2023)

Marcy G.

It’s spooky season, so we’re diving into the common conventions, trends, and tropes of the psychological thriller book genre. Psychological thrillers are a popular subgenre of thriller books that focuses on the psychological and emotional aspects of suspense and tension. These novels often delve into the minds of characters, exploring their fears, obsessions, and inner turmoil.

Here are some common conventions and tropes of psychological thrillers:

Complex Characters

Psychological thrillers typically feature complex and morally ambiguous characters. The protagonist often has a troubled past or hidden secrets, while the antagonist can be enigmatic and manipulative.


Unreliable Narrators

Many psychological thrillers employ unreliable narrators, making it difficult for readers to discern what is real and what is a product of the character's perception or imagination. This narrative technique adds to the suspense and intrigue of the plot.


Mind Games

Psychological thrillers often involve mind games, manipulation, and psychological warfare between characters. This can include gaslighting, deception, and attempts to break the mental and emotional stability of a character. The reader goes on a journey of trying to decipher the underlying truths of these deceptions.


Slow-Burning Tension

Unlike action-packed thrillers, psychological thrillers build tension slowly. They rely on psychological suspense, creating an atmosphere of unease that intensifies as the story progresses.


Twists and Turns

Unexpected plot twists and revelations are common in psychological thrillers. These twists can challenge readers' assumptions and keep them engaged in the story.


Isolation and Claustrophobia

Settings in psychological thrillers often contribute to the sense of isolation and claustrophobia. Characters may find themselves in confined spaces, remote locations, or situations where escape is difficult. Think of The Shining where the setting takes place in an isolated hotel.


Exploration of Dark Themes

Psychological thrillers often explore dark and taboo themes such as mental illness, obsession, violence, and trauma. These themes contribute to the psychological depth of the story, creating a layered smorgasbord of character attributes and intense themes.


Moral Dilemmas

Characters in psychological thrillers frequently grapple with moral dilemmas and ethical choices, blurring the lines between right and wrong.


Psychological Horror

While not always overtly horror, psychological thrillers can delve into psychological horror elements, including nightmares, hallucinations, and the supernatural.


Resolution or Ambiguity

Psychological thrillers may conclude with a clear resolution, where loose ends are tied up and questions are answered. Alternatively, they can end with ambiguity, leaving readers to interpret the outcome and meaning of the story. This ambiguity doesn’t have to be a cliffhanger, but a whisper of doubt of what we thought to know to be true.


Character Development

Psychological thrillers often focus on the internal development of characters as they confront their inner demons, face their fears, or succumb to their obsessions. There are endless opportunities to dive deep into a character’s psyche, revealing past traumas and triggers.


Atmosphere and Mood

Setting and atmosphere play a significant role in psychological thrillers. The author creates a mood of suspense and unease through descriptive writing and the use of symbolism. The tone of the story is essential to a psychological thriller. There’s no better way to set the tone from the beginning based on the descriptive language of the setting.

These common conventions contribute to the unique and captivating nature of psychological thrillers, making them a compelling and popular book genre for readers who enjoy exploring the complexities of the human psyche, while being kept in suspense, unraveling the secrets, twists, and turns. We hope you find these notes helpful when tackling your psychological thriller. Who knows? You could become the next Gillian Flynn or Stephen King in no time!

Explore more book genres to learn how to self-publish your next novel.

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