The five layers of a good thriller story

Breakfield and Burkey

These authors have identified five essential building blocks of a good thriller novel. Use them in your own stories to write a narrative that grips readers and won’t let them go.

by Breakfield and Burkey

Breakfield and Burkey enjoy creating thrillers with technology risks and solutions. We coined the term “TechnoThriller” over a dozen years ago, and it stuck. Creating stories in this genre is like walking a tightrope. The following elements allow easy navigation between the 1s and 0s.


Like a building, a story starts with the groundwork. For us, we begin with the proper threat or risk of technology. The conflict for our cyber heroes is the attack from the Darknet.

Our professional career taught us that the benefits of technology outweigh the risks. We also find it only takes one conniving manipulator with evil intentions to ruin it for the rest of us. We examine identity theft as the problem in The Enigma Factor. The intrigue begins with an attack on a tech-savvy protagonist with unrealized family secrets.

Readers get invested in navigating through the digital framework of the story with the character. The action includes twists, turns, and unexpected friends or foes, increasing the tension as the story progresses. The risks from misused or underestimated technology are real, so we slip security reminders into each tale. Experience has taught us that the bad guys are always ahead in the technology race. Good tension gets created in this kind of environment.


Positioning threats or solutions using technology needs to provide enough credibility to the topic. Readers of fiction enjoy the twists, turns, and thrills, but often aren’t working in technology. People today handle more digital influence in their mobile devices than they often realize.

Sometimes we go too deep into a subject, inserting jargon like, “The rootkit virus infected the operating system.” Folks shake their heads, thinking they went from an exciting thriller to a way to make plants grow more robust. You lost the audience.

Different words provide a general way to say the same thing, such as, “Jacob created a unique application, destroying the virus without ruining the data on the computer.” Digital security issues are challenging to convey but must do so without confusing the readers.

Experience has taught us that the bad guys are always ahead in the technology race.


Story elements that alter readers’ feelings are critical to any fictional creation. The rise of hackers, cyber threats, and creative programmers with malicious intent is how we build the drama with each sentence. Creating a journey with risky stops and turns might include the computer running the financial programs now corrupted by a virus. These types of events often appear in the news.

Our connected world opens the door to suspense across the globe, twenty-four-seven. An ad pops up on your phone, captures your imagination, and with a click, you have surrendered your bank account. Not fiction, but we use those activities to build tension. Readers grip the edge of the pages hoping the hero escapes unscathed. Our job is reader empathy.

In The Enigma Beyond, a computer uses the eyes of drones to gather information to locate the hero. The computer, named Joan, almost succeeds during a phone call using a synthesized voice during a conversation with the hero. Our protagonist yells at a machine and gets nowhere because a device has no emotions. Ah, we are exploring the benefits and threats of artificial intelligence.


We use characters to highlight different elements of our story—threats or solutions. Technology rarely has a single programmer on a complex program. For example, some programs have multiple paths, making it easy to divide between numerous people for speed to market or security aspects. In some cases, the programming languages changed over time, then bolted onto some older programs like a digital Frankenstein.

Co-authoring gives us an interesting perspective on people in our stories. We can help direct the dialogue as relevant to a specific character. We have extensive travel and exposure to multiple cultures, mainly where English is not the first language. We use these experiences in the location and people employed in the stories.

Like many authors, our characters talk to us and take us in various directions. We plan to have the antagonist do one thing, then they make us write it differently. The results for us can change the original thoughts on the story but make it a better thriller. Characters, like people, have characteristics to make them multi-dimensional. That is vital in helping readers invest in rooting for the heroes to win or the cyber scum to earn their just desserts.

What we find most rewarding is when people get invested in our characters. One reader remarked in a review about disliking a character who played an evil role in multiple volumes of the series, then recognized the person had grown and changed, becoming redeemable.


In writing our series, we wanted to have each book stand alone as a great story. We also liked many characters and wanted them to grow as the series progressed. We wanted relationships to change, skills to improve, and families to grow. The R-Group is a family business that started during World War II with our stories in the contemporary digital world in which we thrive. Don’t forget to track the character’s genealogy if you repeat characters in a series. Missed steps of character usage get spotted by loyal fans—they will let you know.

The actions and choices of the characters take the problem toward an unexpected finish. Sometimes they are correct, but often they don’t see the solution until it occurs. We put breadcrumbs to follow to let them think or ponder what happens next.

Our story ends of the books in the series contain hints of more future technology threats to exploit, but not cliffhangers. We use those questions and suspense worries to move between chapters. Keep turning the pages to the satisfying end—that is our goal.

We hope this helps you write your story or tell your tale in a compelling, exciting manner.

Breakfield is a technology expert in security, networking, voice, and anything digital. He enjoys writing, studying World War II history, travel, and cultural exchanges. Charles is a fan of wine tastings, winemaking, Harley riding, cooking extravaganzas, and woodworking.

Burkey is a technology professional who excels at optimizing technology and business investments. She works with customers all over the world focusing on optimized customer experiences. Rox writes white papers and documentation, but found she has a marked preference for writing fiction.

Together these Texas authors create award-winning stories that resonate with males and females, as well as young and experienced adults. They bring a fresh new view to technology possibilities today in exciting stories. You can connect with them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. Learn more about the Enigma Series at their website.

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