Thriller Writing Tips Gleaned from a Netflix Parody

Thursday, April 14, 2022

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.


Cathy C. Hall said...

Haven't watched yet but it's on my list, Renee. (Netflix told me it was a 99% match; it's creepy how well they know me!)

Also, I can't wait to read YOUR latest--sounds scary good!

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

I don't remember what we were watching but the boy gave me a look. "No wonder you're not all about busting up crime. You don't drink enough."
Yep. That's all that's holding me back.

Angela Mackintosh said...

Awesome post, Renee! I binge-watched the show when it came out and thought it was pretty spot on with the tropes. I loved it except for the end which was too ridiculous, even for me. Lol! You picked up some GREAT tips, and readers expect these things, but it's nice to give them a fresh angle. Does your protagonist's sleep deprivation make her an unreliable narrator? I'm so excited about your thriller! :)

Marcia Peterson said...

Renee, with your interests and experience with your podcast, I think you're going to write something great!

P.S. Sue, you and your kid are hilarious

Renee Roberson said...

Cathy--It took me a bit to realize it was a satire but once I did a lot more of it made sense. Even the absurd ending, LOL! It is creepy how much our streaming services know about us.

Sue--That's a hilarious statement from your very astute son. I do get tired of alcohol being the cause of so much silly behavior from protagonists.

Ang--Without giving too much away, there's a sleep medication that also comes into play in my story!

Marcia--Thank you for your kind words. This draft flowed out of me so easily after working on my podcast and listening to so many of them the past several years! I think there is a lot to keep the reader engaged.

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

This has really had me thinking about how we view certain things in media. In addition to what's just come out (drinking and medication creating problems for protags), we watch a lot of older movies. Everyone always has a drink in their hand. And if someone drank too much? They were often funny and silly.

Attitudes sure have changed. The contemporary trope and the 1960s trope maybe?

Marcia and Renee - we are both profoundly sarcastic.

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