story map

If you are writing a thriller novel, it’s important to structure it in the right way. Story maps help authors think about how their story will unfold and keep them on track when they are writing. Story mapping can be time-consuming at first, but once you have completed your map, it becomes easier to write the rest of your book without getting lost or forgetting what comes next! You’ll be glad you did! This post will outline some of these techniques for structuring your novel so that you can ensure that every page is captivating.

There are seven steps to create a thriller story map.

Step 1: Inciting incident

First, we meet the main character of your story, get to know them and understand their motivations. Then suddenly, something catastrophic happens. (This should happen early in a Thriller – preferably on the first page or closely after.)

Now to put this into action:

Let’s call your protagonist Carrie in this story. Carrie, a Vancouver physiotherapist and her police detective husband, Tom, are holidaying at a cabin on the Sunshine Coast when suddenly a small plane crashes into a large field behind their cabin.

Step 2: First act turn

At this point, your protagonist realizes she will have to come up with an idea of how to make things work and sets out to do it. (This will happen about 25% into the story.)

It could look something like this:

Grabbing blankets and calling 911, Carrie and Tom race off across the field. When they reach the crash site less than ten minutes later, they are distraught to find the mangled bodies of a man and a woman. The next day, Tom is called back to Vancouver. Autopsies are showing poison in the bodies. They need him to partake in the investigation. Carrie is sad to hear that the dead couple were clients of hers.

Back in Vancouver, Tom goes to talk to the dead couple’s 23-year-old son. A few hours later, Carrie tries to get hold of Tom, but he doesn’t answer his phone. She looks up the address on her client list and drives to the house to see if Tom’s car is still parked there. It’s not.

Step 3: Midpoint

The midpoint takes place when something happens that changes the main character’s life forever. (This will happen about 50% into the story.)

Then turn into something like this:

Early next morning, Tom’s car is found in a river – and he goes missing. Carrie goes out of her mind, refuses to believe Tom is dead. When the police tire of her constant questions, she resorts to unorthodox methods to find answers. Searching Tom’s computer at home, she finds a recent download showing a gambling score sheet.

Carrie recognizes a name on the score sheet. She tracks her down and tricks her into naming her gambling boss. Back home, she searches the net, locates this boss, and where he hangs out. The next morning, she attaches a GPS to his Honda and follows him.

Step 4: Low point

low point

Going into hiding

This is when your main character realizes that they are in over their head and everything seems to fall apart around them. (This usually occurs between 50% and 75% of the way in and is usually placed very close to the second act turn.

Here is a sample of what could happen:

Carrie follows the Honda to a warehouse. She peers through a small window and sees four men, their backs to her, arguing with another man tied to a chair. She goes cold as she hears them asking him about his father’s plane crash. A moment later Carrie becomes witness to the killing of her dead clients’ son – by Tom’s boss! In shock, she manages to gets back to her car and sits there trying to stop shaking. Feeling she can’t trust the police any longer, she calls her closest friend, Jenny. They arrange to meet. With Jenny’s help, Carrie drops out of sight.

When she next catches up to the Honda, the gambling boss is waiting on a dock for an outboard to pull into a marina. The gambling boss climbs on board and they head out toward a small island nearby. Carrie rents a rowboat and follows at dusk. She locates the outboard, then goes looking for Ben. She finds him alive in a shack behind a cabin. She cries inside at the sight of his beaten body. She leads him to the dock to steal the men’s boat. When she can’t unlock it, she damages the fuel line, then takes Ben away in the rowboat.

She is less than ten minutes from the mainland when she hears the killers pursuing. Her only way out is to cut in front of a ferry slowly turning her way. Rowing for her life, she passes in front of it. As the killers gun their engine to pursue, the pressure inside the slashed fuel line widens, then opens up. The engine stops. The ferry plows into the outboard. It explodes and vanishes.

Step 5: Second act turn

This is the part of your story where you introduce all those secondary characters and subplots that will increase tension, complicate things for your main character and ultimately lead them to their climactic moment at the end of act three. (This typically occurs about 75% of the way into the story and propels the story into the final act.)

Here is an example:

While the Ferry’s search lights scan the water for survivors, Carrie slips away in the dark. She lands unseen on an isolated stretch of beach on Bowen Island. When Tom hears what has happed, he realizes the danger they’re in. He knows someone on the island who might be able to help. They find this man’s house. After attending to Tom’s wounds, he brings them across to West Vancouver where they wade ashore at dawn. They contact a trusted friend who offers them a place to hide.

Step 6: Climax

This is where your main character has to deal with the consequences of their actions and confront the antagonist for a final showdown. (The climax falls in the last 25% of the story, and often in the last 10%.)

Here is an example:

Shocked to hear that his boss is a coldblooded killer, Tom realizes they have to find a way to stop this monster or they will be running for the rest of their lives. After Carrie describes what she heard and saw at the warehouse, they make a plan. When all details are in place, Tom calls the inspector (recording the call) telling him specific details of the killing and of the place that no one but the four men in the warehouse would know, and offers to exchange the video for a million dollars. Tom has picked a place where to meet for the exchange. At the meeting place, things get out of hand and the inspector plunges to his death. Carrie and Tom are whisked off to a safe house to be video interviewed by prosecutors. Seven people are arrested. Three days later, Carrie and Tom are free to go back to the cabin on the Sunshine Coast.

Step 7: Wrap-up

wrap up

Finally, we reach the wrap-up of the story. This is where you sum up what your main character has learned, how they have changed and the impact on their world. If it’s a happy ending, then this will be the most positive part of the post.

A happy ending for Carrie could look like this:

Carrie feels like a different person. All her life she has avoided family gatherings, seeing them as obligations to show up and behave, then slip away with a polite excuse.

Now, more often than not, she longs to see them all, find out about her culture, hear about her relations. Tom’s close-knit family becomes hers and she can’t wait to see his family in Sweden. It’s as if she’s starving for this smorgasbord of love and closeness available to her.

In conclusion

I hope you have found something valuable about how to make sure your story has a strong Story Map. It will help you and make you feel confident about where you are in your story at any time. The benefits are unbeatable!

Happy writing,

Ulla

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