A psychological thriller is a puzzle to solve; a puzzle that might just save your life.
Is he a psychopathic murderer or the man of your dreams? Is this the chance of a lifetime or too good to be true? Ah, those age-old questions?
In life we all like to pride ourselves on our instincts, our common sense. We scream at the page or screen, don’t go in there, don’t trust her, don’t pick that up … and yet we only need to click on our tv’s and tune into the news to see how unexpected terrible things are in real life. But there is a disconnect: when we watch the news, we distance the victims from ourselves, we tell ourselves the news story is a million miles from our safe and, blessedly, ordinary lives. Things like that don’t happen to people like us. And yet, a chill still runs through us. Because the people on the news thought that too, didn’t they? But again, we’ll distance ourselves. We’ll convince ourselves that we would have known better than them, or I would have run, or fought, or outwitted, and survived. We wouldn’t have been there in the first place. But again, that shiver creeps through us because maybe the person on the news thought all of that too?
We enjoy thrillers because they let us play out those what if’s, they let us rehearse what we would do in live or death scenarios, giving us endless trial runs at working out who to trust and who to run from and we can’t get enough of them. An artful twist will throw us a curve ball just as we are riding high on our own ingenuity and we will reel at the sudden shift in what we thought possible. We play out the circumstances over and over in new iterations, trying to ingrain some second sight in ourselves, looking for the safety certainty provides.
Human’s motives, desires, and the will to pursue those desires are limitlessly fascinating to us. If we can decipher the why’s and the how’s then we’ll see something coming before it happens to us. As readers we use what we know of life, of people, to puzzle our way through thrillers and we’re challenged and rewarded for doing so.
Thrillers are an active pursuit, they require us to engage, and in return they help us play out their drama within the safety of their pages, and we are drawn to them. Our adaptive, pattern seeking mammalian brains looking for some overarching narrative. Because if we can just figure it all out then we’d know what to do in real danger, wouldn’t we? After our instincts are spot on, aren’t they? They haven’t let us down yet…