How to write a thriller or a mystery novel? What makes for a good whodunnit? What drives an author to write thrillers? What makes a good paced thriller bestselling? If mystery hooks you too, then here are some highlights from a discussion featuring stellar speakers Sharmistha Gooptu, Sonia Chatterjee, Damyanti Biswas, and Kiran Manral, moderated by Baisali Chatterjee at the Women’s Writers Fest in Kolkata. The chat focused on how the women thriller writers bring out the best in their writing.

When Chatterjee stated that thriller is an umbrella term, we all took notice. She said that there are subcategories to the genre. So do panelists think it’s necessary to make this distinction?

“For me I think it’s a genre decided by the publishers. It’s a marketing tool that tells you exactly where a book needs to be slotted, how it is to be marketed, how it is to be reached out and who are the target readers. When I started I had no idea I was writing a thriller but after talking to the publishers I realised its nuances. How it dwells on the characters, how it dwells on the characters’ motivations are not something you see in most thrillers. Many are very pacy, some take no time to progress. So yeah a writer needs to describe a thriller properly for readers to resonate more,” says Damyanti Biswas, who has written You Beneath Your Skin, a novel that talks about issues of poverty and misogyny.

When I started I had no idea I was writing a thriller but after talking to the publishers I realised its nuances. –  Damyanti Biswas

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“Just like Damyanti I too was unaware at the beginning that I was writing a thriller. This book came out organically. High on research mode, I came out with a story that had a character inspired by real-life. It had touched on dark issues such as pornography,” says historian Sharmistha Gooptu who was writing her first fiction with her latest book Menoka Has Hanged Herself.

“It is real life inspired because as a historian I could not write on pornography dating back to the 1930s. It was there, I have spoken to people who can vouch for it, but not documented, so it had to be real-life inspired. It was a very dark world where the issue of sexual exploitation was very prevalent. Many girls were disappearing. So I wanted my readers to identify the book as a thriller with factual information. The protagonist Romola, the elite lady and Rajbala, a poor girl who gets pushed into making sex films. So what happens to girls like her? This is what my book is all about,” she added.

I think this instance of the publishers to slot us in a certain category demeans our capabilities. I think we should be proud that we have written a great story.- Kiran Manral

“I think writing thrillers also depends on the intent of the author. When I wrote the mystery book Deal of Death I wanted my protagonist to have more stories. Dramatically I gave her the features that would leave readers wanting more stories in the future,” says Sonia Chatterjee, who quit her banking job to become a writer. “It is not a typical ‘Who did it’ thriller but more of a ‘why and how’ mystery novel. So while writing a book an author is the engineer of character’s development and also on deciding the genre,” she added.

Kiran Manral sheds a different light on the subject. “I think this instance of the publishers to slot us in a certain category demeans our capabilities. I think we should be proud that we have written a great story. We’ve lost the art of reading a story for the sake of reading a story. There’s too much exception,” said Manral whose novels like The Face At the Window and Missing, Presumed Dead were both long-listed for Jio MAMI Word to Screen.

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