What I Learned at ThrillerFest

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Community

This past week, I attended ThrillerFest, the International Thriller Writers(ITW) annual conference. While I myself do not write thrillers, I knew I would learn a lot of techniques I could apply to my own writing–like how to plot a novel and build suspense–by attending a thriller conference. I expected plot would be the focus of the event, but of course thrillers are all about giving people what they least expect, and ThrillerFest certainly didn’t disappoint on that score.

I went in expecting to learn about plot, pacing and tension. I was thrilled (pun intended) to discover dozens of sessions on other topics as well: like character development, creativity, branding, humor and science. In fact, I probably heard more sessions deal with elements of character development at this conference than I have at any other conference.

The craft focus at ThrillerFest was especially exciting. Yes, there were plenty of panels on “the biz” and there was an AgentFest tucked into the four-day event that definitely put attendees into that pitch-and-publish mindset. And of course there were plenty of sessions on the expected topics like writing good fight scenes or building up action. But for me it was those unexpected gems–those sessions that pushed the limits of what it means for a book to be a thriller–that resonated most. Because, after all, don’t all books aspire to captivate and thrill their readers? And by that definition shouldn’t all good books be Thrillers-with-a-capital-T?

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting about topics that came up at this fantastic conference.  This week we’ll continue the topic from last week (building an audience) but I’ll be bringing in the insights I learned on this topic at ThrillerFest.  Then in the following weeks we’ll look at other topics through the ThrillerFest lens, like character development and story structure.

In the meantime, keep an eye on the ITW website because they should be posting information on next year’s ThrillerFest soon.  And even if you write something completely different, if you’re serious about improving your craft, this is one conference you don’t want to miss.

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