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The thriller is a genre of fiction that is defined by its wide variety of sub-genres. They range from crime to science fiction.

Thrillers are meant to keep readers or audiences on their feet. They should inspire you to keep reading a book or watching a movie in order to find out what happens next. They’re usually packed full of action, suspense, and cliffhangers. There are usually also many different twists and turns as the plot progresses. In literature, these stories make great use of various literary devices like unreliable narrators and climaxes. 

Thriller pronunciation: thrill-ehr

Thriller Genre Definition and Examples

Definition of a Thriller

A thriller is a genre of literature, television, and film that constantly keeps readers and viewers on the edge of their seats. Thrillers are incredibly popular because of the way they use suspense and action. It’s hard to look away from a good thriller as the plot is playing out. A thriller might be concerned with science fiction elements, such as an alien invasion, or legal ones, such as a courtroom drama. Because of the wide array of topics a thriller can focus on, it’s easy to break them down into their sub-genres. These include crime thrillers, mystery thrillers, action thrillers, and more. They can be explored below.

Types of Thrillers 

There are many different types of thrillers throughout literature, film, and television. Below are a few of the main types explained in more detail: 

  • Crime Thriller: involve a single crime or multiple crimes committed over the length of a story. They may also happen before the story begins and focus instead or in addition to solving the crime and bringing the perpetrator to justice.
  • Mystery Thriller: these stories involve a mystery that needs to be solved. There is usually a great deal of suspense in these novels and they may make use of cliffhangers, inspiring readers to continue one from chapter to chapter until they get to the outcome. Tension will also build as the novel progresses. 
  • Psychological Thriller: one of the most common types of thrillers. These stories involve characters with psychological disorders. This could mean sociopaths, psychopaths an more. The disorders may lead to various dramatic events and outrageous courses of action that surprise and disturb readers. The main character/protagonist or the antagonist may be dealing with one of these disorders. 
  • Action Thriller: deals with action packed stories featuring a protagonist with advanced abilities. They might be a police officer, CIA officer, or have training via another means. 
  • Legal Thriller: focused on the drama within a courtroom. These stories involve defence attorneys, prosecutors, criminals, witnesses, and more. 
  • Science Fiction Thriller: concerned with otherworldly  actions and advanced technologies. These thrillers might take place in space, in the future, or on another planet entirely. 

Examples of Thrillers 

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson 

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is one of the best-known classic thrillers in the English language. It follows Gabriel John Utterson as he investigates a series of strange occurrences around his friend, Dr. Jekyll. It becomes apparent partway through the novel that something terrible has happened to Jekyll to change him forever. He’s dealing with a dual nature, one side good and one side evil. Here is a famous quote from the book: 

With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to the truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two.

The book was published in 1886 and has been read by readers around the world since. It’s a staple within many high school and university curriculums as well. 

Explore Robert Louis Stevenson’s poetry

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl is a contemporary thriller written by Gillian Flynn and published in 2012. It conforms to the sub-genre of a crime thriller and became widely popular after its publication and adaptation into a film. It uses suspense and drama to tell the story of the disappearance of Amy Dunne and the public’s condemnation of her husband, Nick Dunne. Here is a quote from the novel:

Just as Amy took the credit for making me my best self, I had to take the blame for bringing the madness to bloom in Amy. There were a million men who would have loved, honored, and obeyed Amy and considered themselves lucky to do so. Confident, self-assured, real men who wouldn’t have forced her to pretend to be anything but her own perfect, rigid, demanding, brilliant, creative, fascinating, rapacious, megalomaniac self.

The novel is filled with twists and turns that are meant to keep readers on the edge of their seats. It also uses classic thriller elements like an unreliable narrator and cliffhangers. 

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

The Silent Patient is a popular psychological thriller published in 2019. It follows Theo Faber, a psychotherapist who is faced with a challenging patient. He has to treat a woman who’s fallen mute after killing her husband. The book is set in a psychiatric unit and, as the author revealed, modeled after Agatha Christie’s writing. Here is a quote from the book: 

We are made up of different parts, some good, some bad, and a healthy mind can tolerate this ambivalence and juggle both good and bad at the same time. Mental illness is precisely about a lack of this kind of integration – we end up losing contact with the unacceptable parts of ourselves.

The novel featured on The New York Times Best Seller List at number 1 after its release. It also won the Goodreads Choice Award 2019 in the Mystery and Thriller category. 


Why are thrillers important? 

Thrillers are an important part of fiction. They’re incredibly popular and are written by authors from every walk of life. They can take place anywhere at any time, allowing readers to experience a wide array of places and times. 

What are the characteristics of a thriller? 

Thrillers include a protagonist or hero, elements of suspense, usually a sidekick of some kind, plot twists, red herrings, and more. There is also usually a central conflict to overcome that may involve a villain or malevolent force.

Why are thrillers interesting to read? 

They are interesting to read because they present the audience with a romantic series of actions that are hard to look away from. They are usually filled with exciting twists and turns, emotions, and creative plot points. 

Is thriller the best genre?

This is a subject question, but it’s likely that a wide variety of readers would rank the thriller as one of the best genres of literature to read and film/television to watch. They can be entertaining, scary, and surprising. 

Are thrillers horror stories? 

Thriller stories can also be horror stories, but they are not explicitly “horror.” The horror genre is dedicated to different, more specific characteristics, such as scaring the reader/viewer. 

Related Literary Terms 

  • Horror: a genre of fiction that plays with human fear, feelings of terror, dread, and repulsion to entertain the audience.
  • Science Fiction: a literary genre that focuses on imaginative content based in science.
    Fantasy: a literary genre that includes talking animals, magic, and other worlds. It includes plots that couldn’t take place in the real world.
  • Genre: a type of art, literary work, or musical composition that is defined by its content, style, or a specific form to which it conforms.
  • Historical Fiction: a genre that fictionalizes real places, people, and events.

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