How to Write a Thriller Screenplay?

The thriller genre is one of the most enduring genres in the movie industry–popular because moviegoers enjoy being taken to the edge of their seats and kept there. Movies such as “Jaws,” “Silence of the Lambs” and “The Shining,” demonstrate not only this genre’s endurance, but the scope of stories a writer can tell within the genre. Thriller screenplays are filled with terror, anticipation and action that take moviegoers on a roller coaster ride from start to finish. Learn how to write a thriller screenplay that could end up thrilling viewers on the big screen.

  1. Decide how you will structure and write your story. Due to the specific formatting of a screenplay, most screenwriters use scriptwriting software. There are many screenwriting programs available, priced from free to a few hundred dollars (see Resources). All of this software automatically formats your screenplay to industry standards, and most of them have some type of story-structuring tools. If you’re low on funds, you might consider using one of the free online screenwriting options available or the free Celtx software. If you use Microsoft Word and would like to use it for screenwriting, consider using the Script Wizard add-in (see Resources).
  2. Outline your story. Most screenwriting software comes with either virtual index cards or some type of outlining feature. It isn’t necessary to outline, but it’s a good idea. The outline doesn’t have to be detailed. Make a short note on each of the major plot points in your story just to give you an idea about the scenes you need to write to accomplish your story goal. Since you are writing a thriller, the outline is a good way to keep track of the rising and falling action. In a thriller, most of your scenes should be written as action or with suspense that builds to action.
  3. Keep your screenplay plot driven, not character driven. This doesn’t mean your characters should be flat. They need personality; just don’t write too internally. A thriller is a very external, action- and suspense-oriented type of story. Your characters need a backstory that makes them stand out as more than cookie-cutter people, but their stories need to drive the action of the plot.
  4. Format your screenplay properly. This applies to any screenplay you write. Screenwriting software will format for you automatically while you write, but it’s a good idea to refer to screenplay elements if you’re in doubt about what to use. You can purchase a good reference book at any bookstore (try the “Elements of Style for Screenwriters”) or use a reference chart online (see Resources).

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