3 Tips on Writing Psychological Thrillers – Michael Robotham

Welcome to My 3 Tips.

Gold Dagger award-winning crime writer Michael Robotham is one of Australia’s most widely read authors, whose psychological thrillers have been published in 25 languages and sold millions of copies around the world.

Michael began his writing career as an investigative journalist working across Britain, Australia, and America. Later he became a ghostwriter, collaborating on 15 ‘autobiographies’ for politicians, pop stars, soldiers and adventurers. Twelve of these books became Sunday Times bestsellers.

Michael is a two-time winner of the Ned Kelly Award for Australia’s Crime Novel of the Year. He’s also twice shortlisted for the UK’s Ian Fleming Steel Dagger,  and the acclaimed, Gold Dagger Awards.  He won the Gold Dagger in 2015 for his standalone thriller, Life or Death.


Over the years I’ve had many occasions to meet and work with Michael at various events. Despite his enormous success, on every occasion, I found him gracious and generous with his time to both fans and aspiring writers.

Praise for Michael’s work extends to literary giants such as Stephen King who’s been quoted as not being able to ‘stop reading’ Robotham’s ‘nerve-shredding’ thrillers.

I’m very grateful that despite his busy writing schedule, Michael was able to take time out to share with me his Top 3 Tips. Without further ado, let’s take a look at Michael’s list…

Michael’s Tips on Writing Psychological Thrillers.

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Tip 1. Create compelling characters.

It is important to tell a good story, but it’s critical to have memorable characters. You must bring them to life, make them believable and, most importantly, make people care about them.  Long after we have forgotten the plot of our favourite crime novels we remember the characters. They are what bring us back to the same writers again and again.

Great characters are multi-dimensional, with quirks and flaws, motivations and values. They don’t have to be saints, but they must be charismatic and ‘readable’.

Tip 2. Suspense and Pace

There must be a ‘ticking clock’ at the heart of your story. This is what generates the suspense and the pace of the storytelling. A psychological thriller is not a gentle mystery where Miss Marple has time to tend her roses while musing over who poisoned Fortescue Smythe in the library. In a psychological thriller the clock ticks loudly because lives are in danger and the killer is still out there.

Alfred Hitchcock was the master of suspense. He said that surprise is when you have a bomb go off, while suspense is where you show people the bomb and have them wondering when it’s going to go off. Suspense involves anticipation, which is far more interesting than action, but only if you remember the really important thing…MAKE THE READER WAIT.

Tip 3. Conflict, crisis, and complications

These are the twists, turns, red herrings, blind alleys and roadblocks that our hero must overcome to solve the crime and save the day. Conflict is at the heart of all great storytelling. Our hero must want something and someone or something must stand in his or her way.

Don’t make your hero too passive and don’t make it too easy. They should suffer a little and have to work hard to overcome their demons – the internal and the external ones.

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