Literary thrillers combine the elegant prose and thematic richness of literary fiction with the propulsive plots of thrillers. Using Donna Tartt’s The Secret History as a touchstone, this class will examine all elements of literary thrillers, including plots and subplots, suspense, timelines, plot twists, character, voice, style, and tone. We will also discuss Raymond Chandler’s “Ten Commandments for the Detective Novel” and what we can learn from traditional mysteries and thrillers.
We will workshop both the outlines of students’ novels as well as excerpts of those novels. We will focus on building tension and suspense without sacrificing the quality of the prose. Previous workshop experience is not a requirement.
Students can walk away from the class ready to write their own full-length literary thriller. In addition to a workable outline, they will have a stronger sense of the character, setting, and voice that will distinguish their work as a “literary” thriller. We will also discuss the challenges of writing a plot-centric novel, and brainstorm ways that students can meet these challenges. They will also be given a list of examples of literary thrillers that they can use as references throughout their writing process.
Class meetings will be held over video chat, using Zoom accessed from your private class page. While you can use Zoom from your browser, we recommend downloading the desktop client so you have access to all platform features.
- A useable outline for a book-length literary thriller
- A workshopped excerpt focusing on style, voice, and character
- A strong understanding of what makes a thriller “literary”
- A 10% discount on all future Catapult classes
Students will be expected to read The Secret History by Donna Tartt during the course of the class and should have access to a physical or e-book copy when the course begins. In addition to discussing it in depth in our first class, we will return to The Secret History throughout the course to discuss plot, character, pacing, and more.
Each student will be required to turn in two pieces: 1) an outline of their novel and 2) a sample of the novel. We will decide as a class, and based on how many students there are, how long each assignment should be. The assignments can be done in whatever order the student thinks is most beneficial to their process. Each student will be required to write a one-page double-spaced critique of the others’ assignments, and is expected to come to class ready to share comments and questions.
Week One: We will discuss, in depth, The Secret History by Donna Tartt. We will map out the plot of the novel visually, and discuss what elements distinguish a “literary” thriller from a “regular” mystery or crime novel. We will then discuss whatever the students are comfortable sharing about their current project.
Weeks Two- Six: Workshop outlines and samples, according to a schedule agreed upon by the students during the first class.
"I read it in one sitting and I cannot stop thinking about it, or telling people about it. I thought it was such a layered, haunting, incredibly moving read."
"It has for me the quality of a loaded gun—still and threatening. Not a word wasted, yet maximum impact."
"The whole book unfolds as a tiny, perfect, feminine horror story. The continual threat of violence is Other Women’s most omnipresent danger. It lingers like a storm cloud or jagged violins in a low-budget slasher flick... but it’s in Goldberg’s talent for provoking visceral emotional responses with quiet, understated imagery that her horror aesthetic is most clear. Each page unfolds cinematically, like a new scene with something waiting to jump out."