Dean Koontz is the literary equivalent of “The Beatles,” “a modern-day Swift,” and “Literary Juggler.” There is no denying that Dean Koontz has the skill necessary to write a suspenseful thriller with heart.
This is how to write like Dean Koontz:
You can write like Dean Koontz by writing in long stretches, skipping outlining, hiring a researcher, fussing over revisions, including humor, and coming up with oddball characters. You can also copy Dean Koontz’s poetic writing style and follow his bestselling book formula.
Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about writing like Dean Koontz.
24 Dean Koontz Writing Tips for Beginners
Koontz is that uncommon author who is both a master storyteller and an accomplished writer. His books have believable characters who leap off the page with pacing that left you gasping for air.
But to label him merely a writer is like comparing Beethoven to a guitarist.
A literary master, linguist, or sultan of suspense could be a more fair description.
Despite the fact that I don’t like everything he’s written (surprise), he has always been my favorite writer. His sentences are masterpieces. They shift. They rotate. They waltz.
Here are 24 helpful suggestions for writing like Dean Koontz.
1) Write Like a Marathoner
Koontz disclosed that he frequently works 70-hour weeks in a radio interview for his book Ashley Bell.
Yes, it means he frequently writes for lengths of 10 to 12 hours while wearing adult diapers and being fed sandwiches by his golden retrievers.
A best-selling author must carry out their obligations.
I made that up, of course. Sandwiches are for ordinary people. Koontz is a literary god.
Key takeaway: Write for extended periods of time. Write like you’re in a marathon.
2) Discard Your Story Plan
Koontz creates the narrative as he goes along. Page after page, like a reader, he learns the story.
Although I like to outline before I start writing, plotting as you go seems more natural, and it seems to work pretty dang well for Koontz.
He does not begin with a totally blank canvas.
His approach, which is briefly described below, begins with an intriguing concept that he investigates through an assortment of fascinating, frequently odd individuals.
Key takeaway: Write with a clear premise but without a clear story plan.
3) Hire a Researcher
In order to conduct research for his books, Koontz uses an assistant.
The majority of his works are written on an old computer that, until a few years ago, wasn’t even linked to the Internet, and he staunchly shuns Internet research.
He simply concentrates on the story and the writing.
Key takeaway: Avoid distractions and outsource as much as you can.
4) Write Fast and Edit Slow
Be aware that Koontz (typically) works very – VERY – slowly.
Each page is written numerous times by him. Yes, each page individually. That can sometimes entail 20, 30, or even 40+ revisions. Per page.
As a result, Koontz can (according to his own admission) truly polish the language, focusing on the finer points of the plot while still figuring out the bigger, interwoven plotlines.
He responds to the growing story in real-time.
He acts as the editorial antagonist as well as the creative catalyst. As a result, his stories seem both organic (natural) and focused (tightly plotted).
Key takeaway: Write fast and edit each page 20 times.
5) Never Glorify Evil
Fans of Koontz immediately discover that he never romanticizes evil.
All of his characters are well-developed, yet the antagonist is never a likable figure meant to inspire admiration.
This seems to be a guiding principle in his writing because it appears in most, if not all, of his works.
Key takeaway: Don’t glorify or glamorize evil in your story.
6) Strategically Use Humor
I’ll be open about this: I was delightfully surprised and amused by Koontz’s sense of humor. He makes me laugh so hard.
You can listen to his podcasts on deankoontz.com to uncover his childlike sense of fun.
His books frequently have sequences with witty dialogue, characters interacting in funny ways, and characters saying amusing things.
His book’s darker, more scary passages, elevate in terror in contrast with his comedy.
Key takeaway: Use humor to contrast the darker, grittier parts of your story.
7) Come Up With Odd Characters
Millions of readers have been captivated by Koontz’s characters.
Here are the keys to great characters (according to Koontz):
- Every character gets a compelling backstory
- Every character has a peculiarity
- Every character gets a great name (like Odd Thomas!) and an obsession
- Every character struggles with imperfections to make them more human
- Every good character possesses valiant qualities
- Every major character has something or someone to cherish (and to love them back)
- Every character faces a challenge
- Every character is passionately motivated
What aspect of Koontz’s character is most crucial? Allowing them to experience “free will” within the narrative.
Key takeaway: Design oddball characters with quirks, flaws, goals, and conflicts
8) Fall in Love With Language
One of Koontz’s works was once read by a poet who noticed that certain sections were totally written in iambic pentameter.
Koontz asserts that most readers aren’t aware of the underlying structure of his highly stylized words.
However, Koontz argues that it is this structure, that gives his writing a sense of “flow.”
Koontz is in love with language. And the ramifications of that love are felt by the reader.
Key takeaway: Infuse your sentences with a passion for language, style, and words.
9) Clone the Koontz Bestseller Map
Based on my lifetime reading of his work, here is how to write a bestseller like Koontz:
- Begin with a captivating premise.
- Think of the most interesting lead character (consider quirks, obsessions, magical powers, contrast, etc).
- Give the character a mysterious (violent? ) past.
- Keep asking, “What’s the story about?” This is how you find your theme and subtext.
- You can also learn the theme by studying the character.
- Think of a number of related ideas and themes that intertwine.
- Start writing and let the characters guide you page by page to the conclusion. This is the “free will” method of writing.
- Make ruthless edits to every page until it is “perfect.”
Key Takeaway: Start with an exciting premise and then allow compelling characters to thoroughly explore it.
10) Create a Grabby Hook
Koontz advises new authors to capture readers’ attention on the opening page of their works.
He has numerous goals for the first page (and chapter) of his own novels, including the following:
- Attract interest
- Declare who the primary character is
- Describe the story’s tempo, genre, and tone
- Add a touch of reality
Key takeaway: Create a first chapter that thoroughly introduces readers to this specific story.
11) Adopt His Bestseller Model
After researching literary greats and bestsellers, Koontz identified this secret story structure:
- The main character has just gone through or is going to experience a crisis.
- While trying to tackle the problems, the main character just makes them worse.
- The protagonist battles a number of steadily deteriorating problems, many of which result from his or her own errors of judgment and bad choices.
- The difficulties stem from the interaction between the protagonist’s strengths and weaknesses.
- The worst of the circumstances come into play.
- The conflict has a significant impact on and transforms the protagonist.
- The protagonist discovers fresh information about himself or the outside world that aids in crisis resolution.
- The protagonist frequently is a proactive catalyst for the resolution of story problems.
Key takeaway: Follow the bestseller model
12) Fall Away Into the Story
Here is a great quote by Koontz:
“Your commitment has to be to the story and to our beautiful language, not to the publisher or even the reader. You want to please the reader, of course, because if you don’t, that’s the end of your career. But what’s so strange is that the harder you try to please the reader, the less you’re likely to do so. The more you forget about the reader, about the marketplace, and the more you fall away into the story, letting characters and narrative events sweep you along, the more that readers will like it. They sense your giddy enthusiasm and find it infectious.”
- You should focus on the story and language, not on pleasing the reader.
- Trying too hard to please readers can actually have the opposite effect.
- You should be enthusiastic about your story, and let readers pick up on that enthusiasm.
Here is a good video of Dean Koontz giving advice on how to write like him:
13) Use Subtext in Dialogue
Subtext in dialogue is the unsaid or implied meaning that hovers beneath the spoken words.
Dean Koontz is a master at adding layers of subtext to his characters’ conversations, which adds richness and depth to his stories.
Rather than saying everything outright, characters may speak in a way that implies more than what the surface words denote.
This engages readers, making them think deeper about the characters and the unfolding events.
It adds a layer of sophistication and provides a more rewarding reading experience.
- Example: “You’re awfully quiet tonight,” Sarah said. “Just thinking,” John replied. The subtext could imply that John is contemplating a significant decision that both will face.
- Key Takeaway: Make your dialogue serve multiple purposes. It should convey information but also contain hidden layers that reveal character traits or foreshadow future events.
14) Establish Atmosphere
Atmosphere plays a vital role in setting the tone and mood of a story.
Whether it’s a dark alley, a cozy home, or a tension-filled room, Koontz excels at crafting the atmosphere that complements the unfolding narrative.
His use of descriptive language, sensory details, and pacing work in tandem to establish an enveloping atmosphere, turning the setting almost into a character in its own right.
- Example: Describe the flickering streetlights, howling wind, or the distant sound of footsteps to create a suspenseful atmosphere.
- Key Takeaway: Use sensory details and pacing to build an atmosphere that complements the tone of your story.
15) Introduce Red Herrings
Red herrings are misleading clues or distractions that are strategically placed to divert attention away from the real issue, suspect, or situation.
Koontz uses these to add complexity to his plot, keeping the reader off balance and more engaged.
It adds an element of unpredictability to the narrative, making the ultimate reveal more surprising and satisfying.
- Example: Introduce a character who seems suspicious but is ultimately innocent to divert attention from the real antagonist.
- Key Takeaway: Use red herrings judiciously to keep your audience guessing and to make the final reveal more shocking.
16) Master the Cliffhanger
Dean Koontz often ends chapters with a cliffhanger, which is a writing technique used to keep the audience engaged and eager to find out what happens next.
It adds an element of tension and excitement, making it almost impossible for the reader to put the book down.
Cliffhangers are effective because they play on our natural curiosity and need for resolution.
- Example: End a chapter with the protagonist discovering a hidden door in their house, but don’t reveal what’s behind it until later.
- Key Takeaway: Use cliffhangers to maintain pacing and keep your reader engaged, urging them to turn the page.
17) Psychological Depth
Characters in Koontz’s novels are often not just cardboard cutouts; they have depth, fears, dreams, and complexities.
Giving characters psychological depth makes them more human, more understandable, and often more flawed.
This enhances the emotional stakes and adds layers of tension when characters are faced with situations that trigger their fears or insecurities.
- Example: Your protagonist could have an irrational fear of spiders, and then is forced to navigate a room full of them.
- Key Takeaway: Add psychological traits or phobias to your characters to create added tension and depth.
18) Ethical and Moral Themes
Koontz frequently explores ethical and moral questions in his narratives.
His characters are often placed in complex situations where they must make difficult decisions that challenge their moral fiber.
This adds a layer of intellectual engagement to his stories, as readers are compelled to think about what they would do in similar situations.
These ethical dilemmas enrich the story and deepen our understanding of the characters.
- Example: Your protagonist must decide whether to save one loved one or many strangers.
- Key Takeaway: Incorporate ethical dilemmas to add layers of complexity to your story and characters.
19) Make Technology a Character
In many Koontz stories, technology is more than just a tool or a backdrop.
Instead, it becomes a character in its own right, with its own ‘behavior,’ ‘motives,’ and impact on the plot.
This elevates the role of technology from mere functionality to an integral part of the story’s unfolding, creating unique challenges or allies for the characters.
- Example: An AI system in the story could start making decisions that affect the outcome of the plot.
- Key Takeaway: Think about how you can incorporate technology in a meaningful way that goes beyond mere utility.
20) Interpersonal Relationships
Interpersonal relationships are key to Koontz’s storytelling.
Whether it’s friendships, family ties, or romantic liaisons, these relationships provide emotional depth and often serve as a driving force behind the characters’ actions.
They make the characters more relatable and the stakes more personal.
Readers become invested not just in the individual characters but also in the relationships that bind them.
- Example: A friendship between the protagonist and a side character could provide emotional support but also become a point of vulnerability.
- Key Takeaway: Don’t neglect interpersonal relationships. They add emotional depth and can even drive the plot.
21) Multiple POVs
Koontz often employs multiple points of view to offer a broader perspective on events.
This isn’t just for the sake of variety but serves to deepen the reader’s understanding of the characters and their motivations.
It allows for a more nuanced and complex narrative, where events can be seen from different angles, each contributing to a richer story.
- Example: Switch from the protagonist’s POV to the antagonist’s POV to offer insight into their motivations.
- Key Takeaway: Use multiple points of view carefully to enrich your story and reveal facets of characters that would otherwise stay hidden.
22) Use of Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is a technique where the writer gives an advance hint of what is to come later in the story.
Koontz uses this technique skillfully to plant subtle clues that may not seem significant at the time but gain importance as the story unfolds.
This keeps the reader engaged, trying to piece together the puzzle, and provides a satisfying payoff when the foreshadowed events come to pass.
- Example: Early in the story, mention a minor detail, like a rusty lock, which later plays a significant role in a character’s escape.
- Key Takeaway: Use foreshadowing to subtly set up important events or twists, but don’t make it too obvious.
23) Short Chapters, High Impact
Koontz frequently uses short chapters to maintain a fast-paced narrative.
Each chapter, though brief, is packed with information, action, or emotional depth that propels the story forward.
This makes it difficult for the reader to find a natural stopping point, thereby increasing engagement and the likelihood that they will continue reading.
- Example: A brief chapter where the protagonist finds a clue that turns the investigation around can be very impactful.
- Key Takeaway: Keep chapters short but packed with content that advances the story, keeping the reader hooked.
24) Backstories with a Twist
Dean Koontz often enriches his characters with detailed backstories.
However, he usually includes an unexpected twist or revelation that adds a new layer to the character.
By doing so, Koontz makes them more complex and intriguing.
This keeps the reader invested in the characters, not just for their roles in the present narrative but for their past experiences and how those shape their current actions.
- Example: A character who is portrayed as brave and fearless may later reveal a traumatic event that explains this bravery.
- Key Takeaway: Use backstory to add depth to your characters, but consider introducing unexpected elements that surprise the reader and add complexity.
Final Thoughts: How To Write Like Dean Koontz
Remember to find your own voice when emulating Dean Koontz’s style.
After all, Dean Koontz developed a very successful career as a writer by experimenting with his distinct and original writing style.
You want to be an original voice with a fresh story and cutting-edge perspective.