Crime Writer Roger Silverwood on How to Plot a Thriller

Roger Silverwood is the creator and writer of the Inspector Angel mysteries. The eighteenth book in the popular series The Cheshire Cat Murders is out this month in hardback.

The only valid reason to write is because you want to. There is no golden way to success. It is not a luxury hobby or something to pass two hours on a wet Sunday afternoon. It is hard work, but persist, find the right market, and you have a chance of success.

Below I show you how you might structure (or plot) a story that could be quite chilling. This plot idea of mine was first published in WRITING NEWS and shortly afterwards in RED HERRINGS, the Crime Writers Association’s house magazine. Perhaps it might help you.

Firstly, I need a super ending; one that has to have lots of opportunities to produce chilling/interesting/mysterious/entertaining reading.

‘How about an amateur taxidermist who adores his dog so much that when the old pet dies, he stuffs it? Then his grandmother dies … He adores her too, so he stuffs her and puts her down the cellar. Then his mother, then his wife … It becomes so intriguing that he might (or he might not) go out at nights looking for subjects. Say the girl next door brings a parcel of cosmetics that the postman left, sees the light in the cellar and goes down there … he sees her looking … what does he do? The taxidermy is starting to get out of hand. I’d already decided that if I wrote this, it would be from my pet policeman character’s point of view.

‘The next important thing is to look for a motive. I wouldn’t pursue a storyline if I couldn’t find a strong, valid motive. A history and a fear of loneliness … can’t be away from his loved ones … memories of a super caravan holiday in Mablethorpe … it might work. I would need to fill out the storyline with more nostalgic reflections …

‘Then I’d add a subplot … say there is a woman, Nerissa, who fancies him. One afternoon he gave her a lift to a shop or paid for a cup of tea, or she tripped and dropped her shopping and he helped picking it up … momentarily touched her arm … something trivial. She thinks it’s serious. She cooks, brings him cakes, apple pies, offers to cut his hair … she’s always at the door … in the house …she won’t go away. She mustn’t discover his secret, how can he get rid of her? Is there only the one way?

‘I’d complicate the narrative by having another plot running. Say he used to be a policeman. The regular coppers will talk shop to him about the missing people, confide in him a little maybe … he can “help” them.

He realizes he’ll have to move the bodies, his house might be searched – very dangerous – he has to take them somewhere. It’ll have to be at night …

‘I would introduce another crime. Something close by, so that the “investigation” around him (or of him) possible. A serious traffic offence, fiddling the firm’s petty cash or something … also to provide red herrings.

‘Then I’d want a running tag. He’s driving the neighbours potty learning to play the violin. He keeps taking the exam and failing. Or he’s in the Slim Quick Slimmer’s club, competing hard to lose two stones and become slimmer of the year.
‘All that, is what I know as the writer. Now I have to look from the perspective of the reader (and my pet policeman character).

‘The plot would be fed out to the reader in dribs and drabs … people keep disappearing, lots of chemical, wax, cosmetics and unusual substances are being delivered to number 17 Cheyne Walk. A man annoying his neighbours by playing the violin. Funny smells from the cellar. He says he’s varnishing his violin to improve the tone. Neighbours say they saw his wife in the front seat of his car. He says she’s gone back to her mother.

‘Although they can’t find a single body, the police interrogate him … the answers are not acceptable. They interrogate him again. He can’t answer them satisfactorily. He is arrested. He is eventually tried and found to be insane and sent to Broadmoor. Then the authorities learn he has passed the violin exam, or won the Slim Quick prize.

‘The last lines of the final page of the book might read like a newspaper report:

A Mablethorpe caravan site owner was treated for shock after he found five dead bodies and a dog in a static caravan round a table like a family tea party; they were all wearing excessive make-up.

Will it work as a book? Is it too far fetched? Would it make a good read? I wonder … There is still a lot of work, research and rewrites to do before I finish, celebrate with a bottle of champagne and vow it’s the last book I’ll ever write.

The next day I’ll start another. It’s agony, but I like it.

Actually, after much deliberation, I decided not to go ahead with this plot because I couldn’t make an Inspector Angel story out of it, and everybody wants me to write about him. I gladly forsake the copyright to any reader who wants to take the plot and write a book round it. Why don’t you have a go?

– Roger Silverwood

Previously Published in: Red Herrings/Writing News

Copyright: Roger Silverwood

The Cheshire Cat Murders is available to pre-order now in hardback.

The Snuffbox Murders is out now in ebook.

1 thought on “Crime Writer Roger Silverwood on How to Plot a Thriller

  1. Such a pity you aren’t going to write that story. I loved it, in fact it made me laugh and I could see much humour in it, or was that you? It’s so grim it needs humour. Think again.

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