Stephen D Covey

Science, Science Fiction & Thriller Writer

Techno-thrillers or SF-thrillers are near-future, fast-paced, technology based stories. As a genre, there is considerable overlap with fast-paced, near-future, hard-science fiction.

So what are the differences between a techno-thriller or SF-thriller and Science Fiction?

  • Pacing: thrillers need to maintain an on-the-edge-of-the-seat pace. Duh.
  • Antagonists: in a thriller, the reader generally knows who the bad guy is, even knows what he plans. SF often presents a mystery to be solved. Thrillers are more likely to present an imminent disaster to be prevented.
  • Peril: In a thriller, the stakes are higher, generally life or death, often to a large group, even the world. The threats begin in chapter one, and grow until the climax. If an SF event story, the triggering event may not be an obvious threat at the beginning.
  • Background: More technological background info is needed in a thriller. SF readers are presumed to know more science & technology, indeed are offended when the writer gets the science wrong. Still, there must be no blatant infodumps.
  • Technology: Near-future. Recognizable human society, behaviors. Believable technology, perhaps significantly advanced over off-the-shelf today.
  • Secrecy: in a thriller, the advanced technology is often new and secret, limited to government/military organizations, and to well-funded terrorists. It affects the protagonists and those around him. In SF, advanced technology is often commonplace, affecting society as a whole.
  • Rivets: In both technothrillers and SF, the technology is visible and important, almost certainly key to the story. In a thriller, it is more likely to be military technology, or at least have military implications. There are exceptions (ie, Andromeda Strain).

First things first:  Monitor the website and blog of the International Thriller Writers (ITW) at ITW also presents Thrillerfest, the annual convention of thriller writers.

Second: All techno- or SF- thriller writers writers should subscribe to LOCUS, the Science Fiction genre journal. Locus is loaded with genre information including reviews, interviews, and lists of newly accepted works (often complete with agents name - a valuable piece of information if you would like to find an agent who works with similar writers). There are other journals appropriate for other thriller sub-genres. Pick at least one.

Third: Once published, all thriller writers should join ITW, and techno- or SF-thriller writers should join SFWA (the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America).

A MUST READ How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. This book does an excellent job of describing the essential differences between the SF genres and the rest of the fiction universe.  It also gives great examples of common errors, lists of additional resources, and of course practical advice from a Hugo & Nebula Award winner. It's value is not limited to SF writers - its wisdom applies to all genres. How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card



  • Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass
  • The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass
    These books by Donald Maass are extremely valuable and enlightening yet I found them discouraging. They set the bar very high, and most writers will not be able to achieve these ideals. But they do establish goals for our prose, however lofty, and some day I hope to reach them, at least some of them.  I'm not there, yet.



PLOT Conflict, Action & Suspense STRUCTURE


Other useful generic books:

The Writers Block The Elements of Style