How to Write a Thriller Novel in Dabble (Guide + Template!)

Doug Landsborough
December 1, 2023
How to Write a Thriller Novel in Dabble (Guide + Template!)

Do you love to read stories filled with action? Stuffed to the brim with scenes that keep you on the edge of your seat?

Well, I have some bad news for you: this article isn’t either of those.

But! It is a comprehensive guide to write a thriller novel with Dabble, the best writing tool out there for authors like us.

The thriller genre is more complicated than it might first appear. It’s a little bit of mystery novels, a little bit action-adventure, a little bit whatever other genre you want to blend in there with your own unique author voice. But there are some common elements at the core of every thriller, and we’re going to figure out how to use Dabble’s features to capitalize on those elements, no matter the specific thriller genre you’re writing in.

Not only that, but I’ve broken into a secret government lab and am now living on the lam all to bring you a custom template to help you write your thriller in Dabble. You can grab that right here before we get started.

Whether you’re using the template or not (but seriously, why aren’t you?), here’s what we’re going to be chatting about in this thriller-writing guide:

  • Thriller basics
  • Understanding and getting started with Dabble
  • Plotting your thriller
  • Developing your characters
  • Revising and editing with Dabble
  • Some bonus tips and tricks for thriller Dabblers

Okay, I lied about being on the edge of your seat, because I’m sure you’re excited to get going. So let’s start.

Understanding the Basics of a Thriller Novel

Don’t worry, I’m not just using this article to explain the fundamentals of writing thrillers to you. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight the must-knows about writing a thriller novel and how Dabble can help you with those basics.

Here are some of the fundamentals you’ll be encountering when writing a thriller. 

Don’t Stop Raising the Stakes

Every thriller has one thing in common: the stakes are always high and keep getting higher.

Perhaps your story has a ticking clock (sometimes literally, sometimes not), but the point of this genre is to keep making things more stressful for both your characters and your readers. That doesn’t mean you don’t have any sort of sequel to your scenes, but it does mean you need to make sure you’re feeding enough suspense and action to satisfy your audience.

Dabble’s Plot Grid (which, trust me, we’ll chat more about below) gives you a bird’s-eye view of your story’s scenes, plot lines, and basically anything you want to track throughout your story. This means you can make sure you’re amping up those stakes as the plot progresses.

A Strong Protagonist and Interesting Villain

There are few genres that do as good a job of pitting two characters against each other as the thriller genre. Many stories with thriller elements are a direct head-to-head conflict between your main character and the villain, and most others are against an unseen villain.

Unfortunately for us authors, you still need to know that unseen villain as well as one that appears frequently throughout your adventure.

Not only can you manage your characters in Dabble and fill them with all the notes, inspiration, and info you want, but I’ve also included a Profile for both of these important characters in the thriller template, already equipped with our Best Character Template Ever to get your imagination going.

Want more notes or info for those characters? Add whatever the heck you want by clicking the three dots next to their Profile and adding a Note or Folder.

Plot Twists and Shakes

Everyone likes a good plot twist, but thriller readers like these sudden, often terrible obstacles more than most. Is that indicative of a deeper problem? Maybe, but we’re not here to judge.

If you find a particular scene is boring, ask yourself what would happen if you added something unexpected. If you’re revising your story, critically think about whether your sequence of events is predictable, then add in a twist or three.

You can overdo plot twists and other unexpected turns, though. It’s about finding a balance.

My advice? Use Dabble’s Ribbons to mark scenes and other notes you’ve made in the Plot Grid to show where twists, red herrings, big reveals, and cliffhangers are. This will give you a good visual indication of whether you have enough plot twists to make your reader happy (or too many).

There’s a lot more to Dabble—though the platform, like this article, is made with the intention of making these as easy as possible for you—so let’s discover some more tools our many thriller writers and authors love.

Setting Up Your Thriller Novel in Dabble

Before we get too much further, we need to get you started in Dabble. If you’ve already signed up and downloaded the thriller template, feel free to jump to Step 2.

Step 1: Sign Up for the Best Writing Tool for Authors

Begin by creating your account and grabbing your free 14-day trial of Dabble. Dabble’s trial gives you access to all available features without even asking for a credit card number, so you won’t be charged if you forget to cancel. 

Step 2: Start a New Project

Once you’re logged in or have downloaded Dabble, it’s time to start a new project. Here you’ll enter the deets of your thriller: title, subtitle (if you want), and author name.

Don’t worry, you can change it whenever you want. 

You can also name your series by going into Project Settings and changing the details there. This is especially useful when you’re writing more than one book with overlapping main characters or in the same universe.

Step 3: Meet Your Writing Space

Your manuscript is written in a series of chapters and scenes, each of them separate so you can drag and drop them, duplicate them (in case you want to try out something totally different), delete them, or simply store them for later in a different folder.

Every Dabble project includes a first chapter and empty scene. If you’re using the thriller template, I’ve set up the beats of the Fichtean Curve, which is one of the best story structures for thriller authors.

Step 4: Story Notes

In the left navigation pane, you’ll see a section titled Story Notes. This is an invaluable tool for you to dump/organize all of your information: research, worldbuilding, future ideas, or whatever the heck you want.

Step 5: The Plot Grid

Dabble’s Plot Grid is one of the most versatile writing tools out there right now. By default, a new project includes a Plot Grid attached to your manuscript, though you can add a generic one for ultimate customization.

The Plot Grid allows you to manage as many subplots, character arcs, red herrings, mysteries, or any thread you want to follow in your thriller story. And anything you put in the same row as a scene will show up in the Notes section when you’re working on that scene, meaning it’s only a click away.

We’ll discuss ways to use the Plot Grid for in-depth plotting later in this article, don’t you worry.

Step 6: Casts and Characters

Dabble also gives you a place to manage and develop all your complex characters.

You can organize your characters into casts, too. Casts are whatever you want them to be, but I’ve included some examples in the template to get you started: Mysterious Organization and Police Contacts. These are just so you can see what’s available, so feel free to rename, delete, or add new casts and characters.

Step 7: Goal Setting

There’s no definitive word count you should be aiming for when you write thriller stories. A good rule of thumb is somewhere between 80,000-100,000 words, especially if it’s your first novel, but some books sit outside that range on either side.

For your own reference, here are some word counts of popular thrillers:

  • Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane is 81,666 words
  • Just One Look by Harlan Corben is 99,347 words
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins is 101,704 words
  • Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is 145,719 words

Odds are, as a thriller lover, you’ve read one or more of those books. So think about how long they took to read or how thick they were, and use that to guestimate how long you want your book to be.

Then, back in Dabble, click on the gear next to Goals & Stats and set up a project goal:

  1. Choose a word count goal (start with 100,000 if you aren’t sure how long your book will be)
  2. Select a deadline
  3. Add some days off

Dabble will run the numbers and chart your course to your goal. You can then play around with those three parts of a project goal to find the sweet spot in your daily target.

Step 8: Hit the Ground Running

With your Dabble setup complete, you're now ready to start leveraging all Dabble has to offer to craft your thriller story. And that’s exactly what we’re going to do, starting with our gripping thriller plot.

Plotting Your Thriller With Dabble

Thrillers occupy a unique space in the literary world: they are more plot-driven than most other genres.

Sure, you need great characters and settings, a solid theme or two, and any other elements your subgenre might call for, but people devour thriller novels because of the intense pace and nail-biting scenes.

Dabble’s your best friend when figuring out your plot. Here’s how we can use the best of what this program has to offer.

Plotting Versatility

While some authors, known as plotters, like to thoroughly outline their novels, other authors, known as pantsers, prefer a more free-form, discovery style of writing. No matter where you fall on the plotter-pantser spectrum, Dabble gives you the tools, freedom, and versatility to outline the way you want.

You can set up any story structure you want—again, the template has the Fichtean Curve, but you could use whatever vibes with you.

If you’re a plotter, go nuts. Fill out as much of the Plot Grid and Story Notes as your heart desires. On the other hand, pantsers will find your Plot Grid automatically populated with scenes you create to make your revising and rewriting all the easier.

Monitor Your Pace

When the stakes are so high and the twists and turns are coming in hot, it’s important to keep an eye on your story’s pacing.

Pace refers to how quickly your reader is moving through your story. Shorter chapters, cliffhangers, twists, and high stakes all lend themselves to faster pacing, which is what we’re looking for in a good thriller.

Because the Plot Grid can give you an overhead view of your story, you can identify where it starts to lag or where thriller fans might lose interest. 

Conspiracy or Mystery Element

Most thrillers have some sort of conspiracy or mystery driving the plot. While your story won’t have the same sleuthing or detective work as a full-blown mystery, there is usually a big external conflict pushing your characters forward.

So slap that puppy into the Plot Grid! Make a new Plot Line for the mystery in your story. Use it to track the hints, revelations, and red herrings you’re sprinkling throughout your scenes. 

You can also use this to look for any plot holes or consistency errors in your conspiracy (sort of like all the plot holes real-life conspiracy theories have).

Crafting Thrilling Characters

Though your exciting plot is the backbone of your thriller novel, you still need awesome characters.

In the template, there’s already a hero and villain profile set up with more than 100 traits for you to fill out. But there’s more you can do with Dabble to help craft your thriller characters.

And before we get there, here’s a heck of a lot of articles about character development for you to bookmark from DabbleU:

Motivation, Pain, and Arcs

No matter how exciting and gritty your novel, you’re still dealing with real (albeit fictional) people. That means they have a past, pain, and go on journeys. 

Use Dabble to explore these inner conflicts. Create notes on how each character's history and personality shape their decision-making, especially when confronted with the genre's ethical decisions like who should be saved, what can be sacrificed for the greater good, etc.

This could include:

Romance, Hatred, and Rivalry

One of the ways you can drive your stakes even higher is through developing strong relationships between your characters.

Now, those relationships could be romantic, familial, rivalries, or the unbridled hatred between your hero and villain. Alternatively, there could be a romantic connection between those two diametrically opposed foes, if that tickles your author fancy.

There’s no must-have relationships except for some sort of conflict between the pro- and antagonists. This conflict will be the primary driving force through your story.

While solid relationships start with great characters, you can use the Plot Grid to track all sorts of relationship arcs.

Dive into the Darkest Parts of Your Characters

Finally, you want to get much deeper than surface-level details when crafting your characters.

This means figuring out what has hurt them in the past, what their former relationships have meant, why they act the way they do, and more.

One of the best ways to do that? Character interviews. If you’re using the thriller template, I’ve included these in the Templates section so you can add them to any character you want.

Now, to be honest, I used to be a character interview hater. I thought they were things that authors did to brag about on social media or pretend they were working on their characters.

Wow was I wrong. If you want to become a believer too, check out this article.

Revising and Editing With Dabble

Once the adrenaline has died down and your first draft is done, the tough work begins. Don’t worry, though, because Dabble has your back even after you’re done writing.

First, you’re going to want to revise your novel. Take a few days off, then approach it with a fresh eye. Start by reading your story out loud, because it honestly does make a world of difference. 

If you find yourself with a sore throat or tired of your own voice, Dabble has a built-in read-to-me feature with multiple voices to choose from.

As you’re going through your draft, Dabble has a handful of tools to make revising easier:

  • Highlighting to mark problem areas for later. You can even use each color for a different issue (repetition, reworking needed, fact check, add specificity, etc.), which can be helpful for people more organized than me.
  • Comments to leave more detailed notes for yourself about a specific section.
  • Sticky notes to leave reminders for big-picture changes.
  • ProWritingAid integration to check for spelling, grammar, and style errors. You can also use Grammarly’s browser extension if you prefer their system.

Revisions can take place over multiple rounds, so don’t feel like you need to get everything on the first readthrough.

Then you can share a version of your story to beta readers by clicking on the three dots next to your Book, clicking Export, and choosing Web. Or, if you want them to be able to make changes and leave comments or you’re working with an editor, you can choose to export your thriller novel to a Word doc.

Dabble even formats your document into an industry standard layout, so you don’t need to stress before sending it off to an agent or publisher, once you’ve perfected your draft.

A Crime Thriller, Psychological Thrillers, or Even Legal Thrillers: Write Them All With Dabble

All the twists are over with and the stakes are back down to normal (not low, mind you. I know how extraordinary your life is!). I hope this article has given you some insight into what Dabble can do for you and your author career or dream.

But you don’t need to be a lone-wolf action hero like so many action thriller protagonists. That’s why I made the thriller template for you (which you can snag here) and why Dabble offers a two-week, no-credit-card-needed trial (which you can grab right here if you aren’t a Dabbler yet).

The only plot twist I have left: go write your dang book.

Doug Landsborough

Doug Landsborough can’t get enough of writing. Whether freelancing as an editor, blog writer, or ghostwriter, Doug is a big fan of the power of words. In his spare time, he writes about monsters, angels, and demons under the name D. William Landsborough. When not obsessing about sympathetic villains and wondrous magic, Doug enjoys board games, horror movies, and spending time with his wife, Sarah.