What is a Thriller?

If you’re reading my blog and you have absolutely no idea what a thriller is or why you would read one…why are you here again? No, I’m just kidding. There are a lot of new book readers that have no idea what a thriller is or what the difference is between a psychological thriller and a crime thriller.

Which is totally cool! It wasn’t long ago that I had no idea there was a genre such as thrillers and that they were life-changingly awesome.

As a reader, I’ve included a handy-dandy primer for your reading pleasure. An exact understanding of thriller books and their subgenres.

Knowledge is power, Book Fam!

Thrillers are as defined by the wonderful dictionary as :

“…a novel, play, or movie with an exciting plot, typically involving crime or espionage.”


“…one that thrills especially : a work of fiction or drama designed to hold the interest by the use of a high degree of intrigue, adventure, or suspense.”


There are a healthy amount of subgenres in the thriller book and movie genre including:

  • Psychological thriller 
  • Action thriller 
  • Crime thriller 
  • Political thriller 
  • Mystery thriller 
  • Spy thriller 
  • Legal thriller
  • Science fiction thriller

What are my favorites? Aww, so sweet that you asked me! I prefer psychological thrillers, crime thrillers, and mystery thrillers. The rest of them aren’t really in my orbit. Too serious. Too much description. Not enough fast-paced, go-get-em!

But if you like them, fucking awesome. I’m not judging, I’m here to make you feel included and less crazy. Celebrate your thriller book love–or mysteries. Or suspense. Whatever lights your literary fire.

Back to what thrillers are comprised of in fiction and movies. Because that’s what we’re talking about here.

“Characteristics of the thriller genre often include a lone protagonist or small group of heroes opposed by a vastly superior enemy while pursuing an overriding quest or objective. The threat of death or capture is ever-present, and clever plot twists usually complicate the matter. Thrillers appear in virtually every form of narrative and sometimes include elements of science fiction, mystery, or horror.”


“Thrillers are typically the most emotional, focusing on the fear, doubt, and dread of the hero as she faces some form of what Dean Koontz has deemed “terrible trouble.” This genre is a hybrid of mystery and horror. However, the thriller also shares a literary lineage with the epic and myth. Monsters, terror, and peril prevail.”

Epic Thriller: This usually concerns the threat of some catastrophe affecting whole communities, cities, countries, even the planet. The threat need not be total devastation—the assassination of a leader will do—but the effect of the action must be profound.

The villain can be a terrorist, a diabolical genius, or an ordinary person with an oversized grudge and a unique capacity for damage.Given the scope of the threat, the protagonist must possess the skills to defeat the villain, and thus is often a soldier, a spy, a trained assassin, a cop, or a civilian with a special skill set. The action is brisk, even nonstop, and the climax needs to be both thoroughly foreshadowed (we need to know the basic parameters of the threat all along, and the measures being taken to stop it) and unexpected (plot twists are not optional—they’re required). This is a pull-out-all-the-stops genre.

Psychological Thriller/Suspense: Here the threat is still diabolical but more contained, even intimate—usually targeting the protagonist and/or his family—and the hero is often a relatively “ordinary” man, woman, or child. The pacing is a bit more deliberate, to reflect the ordinary person’s difficulty understanding the exact nature of the threat—and the enemy—and then struggling to respond. The third act, however, moves briskly.

Supernatural Thriller: This subgenre is something of a hybrid, in that the nemesis presents an overwhelming threat—he might be Satan himself—and yet that threat is often focused on a single soul or a mere few, rather than the whole of mankind, at least within the story. 


Hopefully this shallow dive into the thriller pool helped you decide whether or not you want to dig into the genre a little further. Although, lets be honest. If you’re on this site, you already want to dip a toe into the pool, don’t you?

Do it. Peer pressure. You’ll love it.

Join us! *creepy cult voice*

Keep Reading Book Fam,


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