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Thriller Writing Tips Gleaned from a Netflix Parody

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I enjoy writing thriller/suspense and true crime, so it stands to reason those are the programs I’m drawn to when I’m in the mood for a good binge. Netflix presented me with a show suggestion called “The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window,” and once I saw Kristen Bell was the star, I decided to check it out. Here’s the synopsis: 

When a handsome neighbor moves in across the street, Anna, a heartbroken woman for whom every day is the same, starts to see a light at the end of the tunnel; that is, until she witnesses a gruesome murder. Or did she? 

Satirical in nature, watching the series also gave me some revision ideas for my own thriller I’ve been working on revising. Here are some tips I picked up: 

Watch your protagonist’s vices. Anna is an alcoholic, which reminds me that so many protagonists in thrillers are a little too into their cocktails and wine. Or anxiety medication. I deliberately made my main character, a podcaster whose sister went missing a few years earlier, a woman who struggles with sleep issues. Medication may come into play, but at least it’s something a little different, and there’s the additional element of dreams and other sleep mishaps I can add in. 

Add in the tragic backstory. In “The Woman in the House Across the Street . . .” Anna is struggling to get over her divorce and an event that broke up her family. In my story, not only does the protagonist have a sister who may have been murdered, but she also has generational trauma stemming from other familial relationships.

Don’t forget the twist. In the Netflix series, you’d better believe there’s a twist at the end. This one was so shocking, and almost humorous (it was a parody, after all!) that as my daughter wandered into the room, she asked, “What in the world is going on here?” In my novel-in-progress, there are several different characters that could have devious intentions. This requires leaving breadcrumbs throughout the book that a reader might not pick up on right away. It’s a challenge, but one of the things that makes writing fun! 

Have you watched “The Woman in the House Across the Street from a Girl in the Window?” What did you think of the formula? What are must-have elements you look for when reading or writing thriller and suspense? 

Renee Roberson is an award-winning writer, regional magazine editor, and host/creator of the true crime podcast Missing in the Carolinas.

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