Character or plot: What makes for a better whodunnit? Thriller writers debate at SIBF 2022

An exciting session at the fair saw three writers from Italy and Egypt discuss their styles of writing suspense and crime thrillers

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A Staff Reporter

Published: Thu 10 Nov 2022, 6:32 PM

International writers of the thriller genre shared their experiences of creating enduring characters and gripping plots at the 41st Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF), during a session titled ‘Fantastic Characters in Thrillers and How to Invent Them’.

The session, moderated by Dr. Lamya Tawfik, saw three writers from Italy and Egypt share insights on their styles of writing suspense and crime thrillers.

Alessia Gazzola, Italian author of medical thrillers, said she has clear ideas about the character before she gets an idea of her story. “I think the characters in my plots have strong personalities and they lay down the rules to create the story. I also tend to choose the longevity of my characters when I write a series or a stand-alone book.”

The professional medical examiner added: “I am a cozy crime writer, not necessarily a thriller writer. My characters work to uncover crime, while also wanting to learn more about relationships and what happened before, during and after the crime.”

Rooting your story in a strong concept is the key to writing a good thriller, noted Italian journalist and crime writer Paolo Roversi, who specialises in writing urban noir.

He said: “We can start a storyline with a strong seminal idea. For instance, Umberto Eco’s highly acclaimed debut novel, The Name of the Rose, is an enthralling medieval murder mystery that began with the idea: ‘l want to poison a monk’. With this premise, the writer went on to create one of the most memorable characters of all time.”

Roversi, who has published more than 20 books and has collaborated on screenplays as well as scripts for television and podcasts, added: “An intricate and complex plot is essential to write a thriller series.

Start with an idea and create a credible protagonist in an authentic setting, and let the readers react. If things go well, we can stretch and pace the action in the right manner.”

Egyptian journalist and writer Mostafa Obaid observed that in his personal experience, the writing can originate in either of the two ways. “At times, the plot strikes first, while at other times, the character portrayal leads the writing path.

The most important thing is to write in a way that [leaves] characters firmly etched in readers’ minds, and they get attached to the protagonist. Readers always want something different from what they are used to,” he said.

The Egyptian writer added that the rational structure of crime writing is fascinating. “Writing in a suspenseful manner with an intriguing storyline is not that hard for talented writers.

But having to be rational to grip the reader’s mind is where thrillers make all the difference,” said Obaid.


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