How Scale Progression Makes Thriller Stories Gripping

Well, I thought that I’d talk about one interesting technique in the thriller genre that might be overlooked by people who are new to the genre. I am, of course, talking about scale progression. This is where the size of the crisis, drama etc… increases throughout the story.

This was something I ended up thinking about whilst reading Lee Child’s “A Wanted Man” (mild-moderate SPOILERS ahoy!) the night before writing this article. One of the interesting things about this novel is that at least the first third of it seems a little understated. Out of the two plot threads at the start of the novel, one is a police procedural detective story and the other involves a character being stuck in a car with three people that he doesn’t quite trust.

These aren’t action-movie style scenes filled with explosions and derring-do. They’re small-scale scenes that focus heavily on intriguing mystery and tense, claustrophobic suspense. Of course, as the novel progresses a little bit, the scale of the drama starts to increase gradually and things start to get a bit more action-packed and dramatic. And this gradual change meant that, every time I sat down to read some of it, I ended up reading twice as many pages as I’d planned to read.

So, yes, scale progression can be a way to make your thriller story a lot more gripping. There are two contradictory reasons for this. One is that it provides variation for your readers. It’s a bit like how, if a horror novel only contains one type of horror, then the reader will get used to it and it’ll become less scary. By including a mixture of small-scale drama, large-scale drama, suspense, mystery and action, you’ll be able to keep your reader interested. If they can’t predict what is coming next, then they’re going to want to keep reading.

The other reason is that, by progressing from small to large scale drama, you give the reader the sense that the story is becoming more and more dramatic. That, if they read “just a few more pages“, they’ll be rewarded with something even more gripping, dramatic, intriguing and/or suspenseful than what they’ve just read. Of course, once they’ve done this, then they’ll want to read “just another few pages” because they know that it will be worth their while to do so.

In other words, scale progression makes your thriller story both predictable and unpredictable at the same time. When done well, this provides all of the reassuring familiary of a predictable story and all of the edge-of-your seat intrigue of an unpredictable story. But, there is one important thing that you must remember if you are going to do this.

Using this technique means that you have to pay a lot more attention to the beginning of your story. If you have to start small and work upwards, then writing a beginning that subtly tells the reader “if you keep reading, then you won’t regret it” is even more important than ever. After all, if your reader is expecting a thriller story, then they might be a little bit puzzled or surprised when the opening chapters aren’t as epic, spectacular and/or action-packed as they might expect.

So, you need to use all of the techniques of the thriller genre in subtle, precise ways. Going back to Lee Child’s “A Wanted Man”, the very first chapter is split up into two short 1- 4 page segments that each focus on a different plot thread. This is like a distilled version of the “alternating chapters” technique used in many thriller novels. Even though the drama is fairly small-scale, the fact that an intense version of this technique is used in the first chapter tells the reader that this is a thriller novel.

Likewise, the narrative voice is the kind of fast-paced, matter-of-fact one that readers associate with thriller novels. Even though relatively little has happened, this writing style tells the reader that this is a thriller novel.

Then, there’s the fact that lots of intriguing mysteries and details (eg: an incomplete account of what could be a murder, a description of a scary-looking hitchhiker with a broken nose, a car stopping for said hitchhiker etc..) are thrown at the reader without a full explanation – giving the hint that they’ll need to read more in order to find out more. Needless to say, this also tells the reader that this is a thriller novel.

So, yes, although a careful progression from small-scale to large-scale drama can be one of the best ways to make your thriller story gripping, you need to pay extra attention to the beginning of your story. If the small-scale parts aren’t intriguing, suspenseful or compelling enough then your reader isn’t going to hang around for the more spectacular stuff later in the story.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂

Three Simple Ways To Chart Your Artistic Progress – Past And Future.

2017 Artwork Artistic Progress article sketch

If you’re practicing making art on a regular basis, then it can be very easy to lose track of time and/or to feel like you aren’t progressing. After all, when you’re practicing regularly, you’ll rarely see day-to-day improvements or even have a clue how good your art might be in the future if you keep practicing.

So, I thought that I’d give you a few tips about how to chart both your past and future artistic progress.

1) Regular remakes: One of the easiest ways to chart your past artistic progress is to choose one significant painting or drawing (either due to it’s quality or when it was made) and to make a new version of it every year or so.

Like this little gallery of all of the versions of the first picture I made when I decided to practice making art regularly. I’ve posted one of these online on the 17th April every year since I started getting into art again (and, yes, the gallery contains a preview of this year’s one):

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] Since I make my art quite far in advance of publication, the annual schedule has been messed up slightly in recent years

[CLICK FOR LARGER IMAGE] Since I make my art quite far in advance of publication, the annual schedule has been messed up slightly in recent years

Even if you’re having a bad day when you make the new version of this picture, then it will probably still look better than the old versions for the simple reason that you’ve had an extra year of experience and knowledge. This, incidentally, will also show you what you’ve learnt and how your art style has changed over the past few years.

This is extra noticeable if you, say, remake a picture once every two years or so. The only problem with this approach is that, when you see how terrible your old pictures look when compared to your new ones – you might be worried that your new painting won’t look good in the future. It won’t, but this won’t matter, because you’ll be an even better artist!

2) The art that inspires you: One easy way to see what your art might look like in the future (if you keep practicing) is to take a look at the things that really inspire you. If you aren’t sure what these are, then either take a look at your own art and see if it’s been influenced by anything or just ask yourself “what types of art, movies, comics etc.. do I think are really cool 🙂

Generally, if you see something cool, then it’s probably going to have an effect on your art. You’re probably going to try to learn from it, or use similar techniques in your own art. It’s probably going to shape what you choose to learn and what you choose to practice.

As such, it can be a great way to get a sneak peek at parts of your artistic future and/or a way to consciously shape that future.

3) Intervals: If you’re making drawings or paintings regularly, then it can be very easy to feel like it’s one long, endless, continuous thing. This can get fairly dispiriting and it can reduce any sense of progression or accomplishment you might feel. So, split your practice up into longer segments that can be “finished” at similar intervals.

If you’re making art traditionally, then this is fairly easy to do. After all, if you fill one or two sketchbook pages with art every day then – for example- you’re going to get through a 48-page sketchbook in about a month or so. You’ll have a completed sketchbook, which you can mark with the time and date that you finished it.

If you’re making or editing art digitally, then doing something similar can be a bit more complicated – but you can do things like putting time and date information in the file names of your artwork (eg: with mine, I usually put the date it’ll be posted here in the file name) , starting a new art folder every month etc…

If you split your collection of practice artwork up into time-based segments, then this will help you to avoid the feeling of just adding to a continuous, never-ending collection of art.


Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂