What Is a Thriller?

The International Thriller Writers is proud to debut a new literary award, aptly titled "The Thrillers."  For the first time, novels that either transcend or amplify the traditional genre into the realm of thriller will be honored and acknowledged.

What is a thriller?

In the words of the ITW co-presidents David Morrell and Gayle Lynds: ...

Thrillers provide a rich literary feast - the legal thriller, the spy thriller, the action-adventure thriller, the medical thriller, the police thriller, the romantic thriller, the historical thriller, the political thriller, the religious thriller, the high-tech thriller, the supernatural thriller.

The list goes on and on, with new variations being invented constantly. This openness to creation and expansion is one of the field's characteristics. Even so, what most readers think of first is the "thrill" in "thriller." And they're right. What gives thrillers common ground is the intensity of the emotions they create, particularly those of apprehension and exhilaration, of excitement and breathlessness. By definition, if a thriller does not thrill, it is not doing its job. Thrillers are known for their pace, the force with which they hurtle the reader along. They are an obstacle race in which an objective is achieved at heroic cost. The objective can be personal (trying to save a spouse or a long-lost relative) or global (trying to avert a world war) and often is both. Perhaps there is a time limit, perhaps not. Sometimes thrillers begin with intrigue, building rhythmically to rousing climaxes that peak with a cathartic, explosive ending. Other times, they start at top speed and never ease off. At their best - this needs emphasizing - thriller authors use scrupulous research and accurate details to create environments in which meaningful characters teach us about our world. When a reader finishes, he or she feels not only emotionally satisfied but is also better informed - and hungry for the next riveting tale.

A mystery is about a crime, about a dead body and clues to the solution of the crime.  A thriller is a novel of suspense, jeopardy and the achievement of a heroic objective.

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