The nine stages of writing a psychological thriller

For years now I’ve been almost exclusively writing YA fantasy in all its various forms – paranormal, dystopian, urban, speculative, and even a bit of science fiction (but that was a mistake, a very big mistake) – all revolving around a central, incredibly clichéd angsty romance.  But for the last few months I’ve been writing a contemporary novel on the other end of the spectrum, something so dark and gritty, that I often take myself completely by surprise, looking over my shoulder to see if anyone is watching.

Even though I have a Bachelor of Criminology, I never pictured myself writing anything remotely dark or scary. And what is it actually like to write a dark psychological thriller? I believe it looks something like cats (because we all know exactly what they are #SerialKillers).

1. Firstly, you have no idea that you’re actually writing a psychological thriller, you truly believe you’re just writing a story about a straight forward murder. Someone’s died. Someone will get framed. Yep, you’ve got it all sorted. Crime novelist extraordinaire here you come.

cat glasses


2. But then, hang on, what’s going on here? Why is the murdered girl not dead? You wanted her to die, but she just won’t go quietly. Damn it.

cat plotting


3. And then you come to that scene. That one scene that would even shock your horror movie resistant friend. Your insides curdle and you wonder if your parents will disown you, or even worse, disinherit you.



4. After you’ve written ‘the scene’ you become so terrified by your own thoughts that you literally freak yourself out.

cat scared book


5. You’re so disturbed you can’t even read the words. So you make a jump for it.



6. But you survive. Because there’s a twist. I really awful and obvious twist (that is hopefully hiding the real twist…) But is the real twist real? And who really is real and who really isn’t?



7. It gets so damn complicated that you begin to question your own sanity. And then you realise. Oh. You’ve written a psychological thriller. Hot diggity damn.



8. After much chocolate-eating, sweat and tears, along comes the magnificent ending you’ve been dreaming of. But… then you realise it’s not really the ending, but the beginning. And the beginning is the middle. And the middle is the ending. Is anyone ever going to understand this?



9. But it doesn’t matter because, YOU’RE FINISHED! Hell yeah! The excitement doesn’t last long. I mean, come on… have you really forgotten that you still have to edit?



Gifs sourced from,,


69 thoughts

  1. I loved this! As a dark fiction writer, I often draw on my knowlege from mys stint as a psychology major to really get into my characters’ heads and anticipate their reactions to things (okay, and maybe play with past traumas too). One critique partner read one of my darker pieces and told me how much they loved the “angel” in the story (for the record, he was a soul-stealing demon, but whatever). Using your character’s own mind as a weapon can be incredibly fun, thanks for sharing! I hope you don’t mind if I reblog this 🙂


  2. Great read-

    I’m considering writing an ebook and branching out into writing stories, but I’m 1) absolutely terrified and 2) I have no idea what genre I want to explore.

    They’re all appealing to me and this piece offered me some insight regarding this concern of mine. It was very interesting!

    Thanks for sharing 🙂 Just followed and looking forward to reading more from your lovely blog~



  3. I love that you tried something new, especially with your criminology background. what a great fit. I am struggling to figure out specifically what i want to write. i think i will take your lead and just start writing! Great job.


          1. The woman who did that cover for me disappeared and I’m not sure what happened to her. I wish I knew, and I would certainly share. She just vanished! Now my covers are done by Deranged Doctor Designs and they are wonderful to work with. Take a look at their gallery on line. It’s amazing. And they’re reasonably priced too. 🙂


  4. I love dark humour in my stories and in other people’s stories so I can definitely relate to this in some way. Like psychology thrillers, its inviting (like a sexy dark hole fused into in a creative plot). As for the discussion on ‘contemporary romance’…please don’t listen to the mainstream, its overated really, strange/stranger romances are a lot more complex and dynamic. Think about the ‘Silver Lining’ which contains strange romance…done well. Nevertheless, be free you creative butterfly.


  5. It certainly sounds like you’ve found your niche! I loved your sample paragraph – and those videos of the cats? Hilarious, but perfectly suited to your comments. Very enjoyable post. Good luck with the change in your writing direction! I think you’ve definitely got something there.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Love this! But I totally get your frustration with finding an agent or publisher. What I also want to know is what kind of teenager reads sweet romance? I’ve spent 28 years teaching high school and trust me, no one is reading sweet romance. Yuck! I think you should follow your muse and go where you’re going. Plus, with a degree in criminal studies–you’ve got a great background for the dark stuff. Have you considered New Adult? That’s hot right now and you can do dark. Look at the thrillers populating the best seller lists now. Go forth and conquer, Milly!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Susan! I’ve never really considered New Adult before – it’s very possible that my thriller novel might actually fit this demographic… I’m still having a bit of trouble figuring out where it fits! (I wish I had an agent, they might be able to help me figure everything out…) I love that thrillers are populating the best seller lists. Hopefully I can find a publisher for this one before the winds change!


    1. I agree. Best thing I can come up with is that perhaps it was on their wish list at the time? I really have no idea. While I do love reading historical romance, I’ve never really been into reading contemporary sweet romance. Although… I do love reading contemporary sweet romance with a slight magical twist! Think Cecilia Ahern 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Gotta love the dark fiction. There’s always something weirdly satisfying about reading something you just wrote and thinking “what the f**k is wrong with me.”
    You should explore some gothic romance. Get some best of both worlds!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes. This! Hahaha. I had that exact wtf moment when I came up with the ‘murder’ scene. My insides still kinda curdle at the thought of anyone I know reading it. Gothic romance sounds right up my alley 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I enjoy your humor here. How great that a kick in the butt spurred you to plunge in and just write something new and wild! Not naturally being an outliner type writer myself, I appreciate the flow of the writing you describe. Also there are, well. Cats! Hoping you don’t mind that I reblogged this post?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wonderful, you must be a fellow pantser! To this day I still can’t outline or formally plot anything before I start writing, but I’m learning to develop chapter outlines before it all gets too out of hand! hahaha. You’re more than welcome to repost anything from my blog 🙂

      Oh and yes, the kick in the butt was exactly what I needed! Even though I was disappointed by what the publisher had to say, I am very much indebted to her for being honest. It was painful, but very much what I needed to hear!


  9. I’m glad that you took the rejection well and didn’t let it stop you, but used it as fuel instead. When I write, I usually get lost in it, and often surprise myself later on when I read it. Did I really write that? I ask myself, amazed at what I had inside my head. It’s amazing, isn’t it? I’m glad someone else feels this way. It’s a refreshing sensation, and even if I also write for a tired industry, I still love it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I didn’t realise what a great ‘fuel’ rejection could be! When I get my next rejection letter I might sit down again and write another thriller hahaha. And yes, it’s still amazing when the words flow and you can look back over your work and think ‘where the hell did that come from?’ Doesn’t happen to me very often, but its nice when it does!


  10. Gawwwwwdddddd! I so get this! I know what it feels like writing a thriller… Its jmso much more fun than writing a stupid romance. I mean yeah, it sells, but it doesn’t get a writer ticking quite like thriller does. And thrillers can have their fair share of sex/romance too.

    I loved how you’ve used cats after every paragraph. They’re just so apt for anything about this genre. And editing…. 😑😑😑 the lesser said the better

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s so weird switching from romance to thriller – then back again. I don’t know how it’s possible that I can be drawn to both! But as you said, thrillers can have their share of romance too!

      I couldn’t help using cats! They are just so perfectly evil, and like you said, they suit the thriller genre so well. I have this cat called Sven who is so stealthy that occasionally I’ll get this super creepy feeling that I’m being watched – then I’ll turn my head and see him sitting on my bedside table watching me – for God knows how long!

      Oh and editing is just such a pain. As you said, the lesser said the better on that topic!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Interesting post! I too have wanted to write crime/thriller, but I don’t think I’m quite there yet in terms of understanding it all, but you’ve inspired me to definitely try it in the future!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t worry, I didn’t understand the first think about thrillers when I first started writing this one! I think I’ve just been learning as I go. You should definitely have a try, you may surprise yourself 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes exactly! When I read back over some particularly distressing scenes, it’s almost as if someone else has written them. I still can’t believe the dark and twisted things our minds can come up with! (Especially when we are perfectly normal/well-adjusted human beings – or perhaps not? Hahaha)

      Liked by 1 person

  12. It’s pretty great that the rejection you got gave you a bigger motivation to write, and with that something absolutely different! good luck 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Hi Milly, I enjoyed reading your blog this week. I agree that rejection makes you more determined than ever to keep writing and even make a change to your core genre. Perhaps, secretly, the very very nice and kind publisher is your subconscious victim, sitting on your shoulder waiting to be swiped off. After all that’s what publishers do; they murder writers…..
    Best wishes and good luck with your next book.

    Liked by 3 people

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