Police Procedural Vs. Thriller

I’m trying to decide what to write next—another Detective Jackson story or a futuristic thriller I’ve outline and started. My creative side really wants to write the thriller, but my inner accountant wants me to write another Jackson story first.

Money considerations aside, police procedurals and thrillers are different, and each has its own challenges. A procedural tends to be more structured because the basis of the book is an investigation that must follow certain steps. When writing one of my Detective Jackson stories, I know that the narrative will likely include certain scenes: detectives at the crime scene, interviews with witnesses and suspects, the autopsy, and of course, the final take down. This structure makes plotting a little easier than writing a thriller. The challenge for every story in a detective series is to break out of the pattern and make the novel unique, and I think I’ve done a good job of that. I use different crimes, different POV characters, different types of openings, and distinctive endings.

Writing thrillers is less structured. The protagonist can go anywhere and almost anything can happen. A strong POV from the antagonist and parallel plots are part of the genre. For the creative side, this is quite liberating (and fun!), and I look forward to the freedom of writing a thriller. The lack of a familiar structure though is a little intimidating. Especially since I’m planning to write a futuristic thriller, a genre I haven’t tackled yet.

The last thriller I wrote, The Suicide Effect, was in 2004. Before that, I wrote The Baby Thief in 2000 (with five screenplays in between). I updated and published both thrillers recently, so they’ve available…in case any of my Jackson fans didn’t know about them.

So I’m excited and nervous to finish this standalone story, which features Detective Lara Evans twenty years in the future. I wish I could write both it and Jackson #6 at the same. Many authors seem to have first drafts of multiple stories in progress, but I’m just not geared that way. I can multitask in a zillion other ways, but I can only write one full-length story at a time.

My Jackson fans will be relieved to know that my husband just voted with my inner accountant, and so the thriller may have to wait. But the voting isn’t over.

Readers: What do you think?
Writers: Do you both? Which do you think is harder?

15 Comments
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  2. I have read all five of your Jackson series and can’t wait for the next one. I finished all five in four days. You have me hooked. You are a great story teller and writer. I envy your talent. I hope you keep them coming. Thank you for hours of pleasant reading.

  3. Hi, L.J. –

    I haven’t been as prolific as you, but I have an opinion and that is to go with your future-dated police thriller. We place our stories in various time periods. If a time period fits what your intuition is suggesting, try it on, take it for a test drive. Mine is set at the beginning of the computer using age, but before the explosion of cell phones. The story premise works at a time when the information world was uncertain and, maybe, a bit threatening. We fear the unknown. So, the detective has to pursue in the old fashioned way and get drawn into the computer age as his investigation progresses. But technology is only background, the story is about people and their passions, and what they are willing to attempt to accomplish their purposes.
    So, the theme was suggested by something I see going on in our society that, in fiction, could turn sinister and subtle to the point of being evil. As the detective’s nemesis tells him, “Ah, Sergeant Reilly, don’t you see? Suppose you are correct; in all your theory there is no violation of law. You’re out of your jurisdiction….and out of your depth.”
    You can place your thriller in any time period and, if the premise has human impact, I think it will play okay. You can even have some fun making up a future of your own design.

    “Success is never final and failure is never fatal; It is the courage to try that counts.” – Zig Ziglar (I think)

    Jack Quinn
    (for Detective Reilly and “A Manuscript To Die For” Amazon Kindle)

  4. I like the idea of the thriller because you have a familiar character in unfamiliar territory. It would be nice to see how Detective Evans has evolved and maybe get a glimpse of what becomes of Detective Jackson. I also would like to see how you envision the world 20 years from now.

  5. I too would read anything you write, as long as you promise you’ll get straight back to Jackson in the not too distant future.

    When you say Detective Evans, is that the Evans from the Jackson novels, but twenty years in the future?

  6. Whatever you write I will read. I just love the way you tell a story & love your characters. I bought every one of your books as soon as I read the first Jackson book and am just finishing up the 5th in the series.

    I do hope that you continue the Jackson series though. It really is one of the best series I have ever read (and I have read most of them). Your character development is top notch & the stories are just so good. I am always guessing who did “it”. That is very rare for me. I usually can tell you who that person is as soon as they are introduced (why I don’t know?).

    I hate to say it but I am glad that you were laid off;)

    shopper2010 (amazon)

  7. Thanks, everyone, for supporting the creative side/thriller. I’m leaning very strongly in that direction. The book is outlined and I already have two chapters done, so it would be the easiest to get rolling on.

  8. I hope to make the succesful transaction of writing a thrilling police procedural

  9. I vote for taking chances and spreading your wings. Embrace change. Stretch your capabilities. You may surprise yourself.

    Part of the fun and thrill of being indie is not having to play by publishers’ (arbitrary) rules. Go with your gut. Trust your instincts. You’ve proven yourself to be an excellent writer. Your readers will follow.

    I’ll buy the book when it comes out. I say go for it! Just my .02. 🙂

  10. LJ, Go with the Thriller. you are absolutely right about the scope a thriller gives the writer, much more freedom. procedurals are just that, like going though basic steps. They are fun and can be predictable as you say. however I think you have managed to keep readers coming back for more quite nicely with your style. Keep up the good work.

  11. Any way to do both almost simultaneously?

    I have appreciated this interesting and thought-provoking discussion. It comes at a very good time for me — mulling over my progress on my first novel.

  12. I love the Detective Jackson series and hope you keep writing them. I reviewed “Thrilled To Death” for
    “ILAM, the first I read. Then had to go back and read the previous ones,.

    Best.
    Deanna

  13. I’m anxiously awaiting the next Detective Jackson novel, but that being said… you’re one of the authors on my list that I buy any book you will release (already own all that you have currently). So, if you decide to do the futuristic thriller, I would definitely be on board and would buy it in a heartbeat. 🙂

  14. Thanks, Peg. I’m starting to lean in that direction. Maybe I’ll look at the outline again…

  15. L.J., stretch your wings. You have made one gigantic, intuitive step by going on your own. Why behave like a publisher now? Above all, you’re a writer. I say (and of course, it’s not my bank account) . . . I say, step out in faith. If you need to, you can probably whip out another police procedural in record time. Be brave. I know you can do it.

    I’ll buy it the day it becomes available.

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I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The characters were compelling, the procedural work was dead-on, and the story was enthralling. Definitely recommended.”
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