[[RuleOfCautiousEditingJudgment Political activism aside]], the [[UsefulNotes/ConspiracyTheories conspiracy theory]] is a PostModern genre of ScrapbookStory that combines pseudo-historical and pseudo-scientific (hence, "theory") narratives under the [[FramingDevice premise]] that all of them are stages of an EvilPlan conducted by an [[NebulousEvilOrganization omnipresent, omnipotent secretive group]] known as "TheConspiracy". In a sense, a ConspiracyTheory is a WhatIf FanFic based upon the RealLife, and we love to read those, don't we?

And then, there is the ConspiracyThriller. A ConspiracyThriller is blend of the [[SoYouWantTo/WriteAStory traditional narrative]] and a ConspiracyTheory, focusing on a [[RuleOfDrama conflict]] between the ([[AntiHero anti]]){{hero}}ic protagonist and the ([[AntiVillain anti]]){{villain}}ous conspiracy. This genre is characterized by {{Jigsaw Puzzle Plot}}s, CluelessMystery, and stunning {{Reveal}}s. A ConspiracyThriller is commonly but not always based upon a ConspiracyTheory.

!'''Necessary Tropes'''
The core of any conspiracy are "[[NebulousEvilOrganisation Them]]". [[TheSchizophreniaConspiracy Imaginary]] or [[AncientConspiracy real]], They are humans (or [[HumansByAnyOtherName whatever passes for humans in your setting]]) united by a particular trait that singles them out ([[CorruptCorporateExecutive super rich]] / [[ThoseWackyNazis Nazists]] / [[DirtyCommunists communists]]/etc.). However, instead of [[HaveYouTriedNotBeingAMonster accepting their unusualness]], they turn evil and [[TheMasquerade secretly]] band together and hatch an EvilPlan to twist the current way of things to suit Them better, which always involves [[TheEndOfTheWorldAsWeKnowIt ending the current way of things]] first.

!'''Choices, Choices'''
A ConspiracyTheory is a story spanning many years and describing the [[HistoricalInJoke famous historical events they orchestrated]] and the lives of [[BeethovenWasAnAlienSpy famous people involved with Them]]. A ConspiracyThriller is a much shorter story, usually focusing on a fictional protagonist's struggle against Them. In both cases, They and Their Plan are the cornerstone of the narrative.

!!'''They'''
Just who are ''They'' and what are They up to? As mentioned already, They are an [[TheFaceless obscure, depersonalized]] group with an EvilPlan. Don't forget to include a plausible explanation for Them doing it: "ForTheEvulz" is not a motive, not in this genre. The classical, universal motivations are [[{{Greed}} money]] and power. More ambiguous types go [[UtopiaJustifiesTheMeans for the greater good]] [[WellIntentionedExtremist as they see it]].

There are a few basic conspiracy patterns, based upon [[UsefulNotes/ConspiracyTheories historical examples]], to inspire you:

* '''[[IntellectuallySupportedTyranny Intellectuals' conspiracy]]'''. They are {{Mad Scientist}}s posing as harmless {{Absent Minded Professor}}s and planning to bring about a [[EmperorScientist global technocratic tyranny]]. Usually involves [[OutgrownSuchSillySuperstitions erasing all traces of spirituality and religion]]. The roots of this stereotype go back to Freemasons, Rosicrucian, and Illuminati.
* '''Ethnic conspiracy'''. They are an ethnic or cultural minority who just don't blend in. Because of this, They plan to enslave all different from Them, or at least mix them up to a nondescript mass. This one goes back to ''Literature/TheProtocolsOfTheEldersOfZion'' and Jewish conspiracies in general. Due to the obvious UnfortunateImplications, this theory is DeaderThanDisco these days as far as scholars are concerned, although the wide involvement of homosexuals in Hollywood has given rise to a new version, the Gay Agenda.
* '''Bankers' conspiracy'''. They are the {{Corrupt Corporate Executive}}s and financiers who use interest rates and fractional reserve to turn the middle-class into [[GullibleLemmings unwitting slaves of profit]]. In other words, the working people are poor, the [[VillainWithGoodPublicity parasites are rich and rulin']]. Like the ethnic conspiracy, this one carries some UnfortunateImplications due to the fact that, in many real life versions of this theory, many of the leading bankers are [[GreedyJew Jews]]; in the wake of recent global economic turmoil, however, this has entered the sphere of cultural consciousness again, albeit almost exclusively in a general CorruptCorporateExecutive form, though care must still be taken to avoid anything that could be seen as outwardly anti-Semitic.
* '''[[RedScare Bolshevik conspiracy]]'''. They are [[DirtyCommunists beggars, lowlifes, and generic scum of Earth]] who are jealous of normal people and use social and economic crises to [[TheRevolutionWillNotBeCivilized seize the power for Themselves]]. Expect a [[SecretPolice KGB]] to secretly back Them up. Another rare format since [[TheGreatPoliticsMessUp 1991]]. Has ''also'' tended to be associated with Jews, ever since Jews made up the majority of members of the first Soviet parliament and since the communist/Jew connection was made way back in the infamous ''Protocols'' mentioned earlier.
* '''GovernmentConspiracy'''. They are a "democratically elected" [[TheGovernment Government]] of a [[TheFederation benevolent country]] (the UsefulNotes/UnitedNations also fits) who plan to TakeOverTheWorld under the pretense of spreading freedom and justice. Expect TheMenInBlack, CulturePolice and a PropagandaMachine in Their service.
* '''Cultist conspiracy'''. They are a [[{{Cult}} closed religious community]] who plan to [[KnightTemplar eradicate all different faith]] in favor of Their own. While originally part of Christian theories about the Jews, this pattern resurfaced in modern times with the advent of New Age groups and other new religious movements. The MilkmanConspiracy often falls under this.
* '''UFO conspiracy'''. They are ([[HumanAliens human-looking]]) [[AlienTropes aliens]] planning to rule the Earth (or to continue ruling it indefinitely, if [[InvisibleAliens they are already here]]). This is the one exception to human-only-conspiracy rule, although They employ [[LesCollaborateurs human agents]].

Of course, nothing prevents you from having [[ConspiracyKitchenSink multiple secret societies]] [[SecretWar battling each other behind the scenes]].

Next, think of the structure of your conspiracy and how it is going to be integrated into the setting. There are three structural patterns:

* '''Secret society'''. The AncientConspiracy Classic. It consists of [[SecretCircleOfSecrets a number of otherwise unrelated individuals who pursue some esoteric goal]], often passed down from their ancestors, meaning it must be pretty old. This form is most popular with Cultist, Ethnic, and Scientist conspiracies. Additionally, the illusion of an ancient conspiracy may be [[InvokedTrope invoked on purpose]] by a single villain to motivate his agents and intimidate his enemies.
* '''Circle within circles'''. The conspiracy between a small number of members of a powerful but benevolent organization that is unaware of their EvilPlan. Usually much more recent than a traditional secret society. This is primarily a GovernmentConspiracy form (e.g. [[CIAEvilFBIGood CIA]]'s unauthorized projects), though Scientists can use it to a smaller degree.
* '''Crime confederation'''. A [[NebulousCriminalConspiracy secret alliance between politics, business, crime, and/or military structures]]. Likely, very recent. This form is popular with Banker, Beggar, and Alien conspiracies. Bankers conspire [[TheSyndicate among each other]], beggars conspire with the KGB, and aliens conspire with TheGovernment (which makes it a Government conspiracy form, as well).

After deciding on the nature and structure of your conspiracy, give it a snappy, menacing name, which it will be known by to outsiders. [[WhatDoYouMeanItsNotSymbolic Gratuitous symbolism]] is welcome but [[WordSaladTitle word salad]] isn't. The name should very vaguely hint at the conspiracy's nature but may not reveal it too early. Bonus points if the name is associated with a [[ConspiracyPlacement recurring]] visual {{Motif}} in your story. Some suggestions to spur on your creativity (see more in MadLibThrillerTitle):

* Most conspiracies can be called "''Something'' Society/Circle/Association/Clan".
* Bankers and governments often use economic lingo: "''Something'' Fund/Trust/Group/Company/Cartel/Club" or simply, "TheGroup/Company".
* Intellectuals, aliens, and sometimes governments use scientific language: "Project ''Something''" or anything in [[AltumVidetur Latin]] or [[GratuitousGreek Greek]].
* Ethnic or cultist conspiracies can go for "[[BrotherhoodOfEvil Brotherhood]]/[[TheOrder Order]]/Knights/Elders of ''Something''".
* More exotic variations like "[[TheDaVinciCode Priory]]" or "Enclave" can be used if it suits the plot.

TheOtherWiki has [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Secret_societies many]] [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Fictional_secret_societies examples]] to inspire you. You may also cut the whole thing short and just [[HistoricalVillainUpgrade recycle a historical secret society]] for your purposes.

!!'''EvilPlan'''
Before moving on to the actual EvilPlan that will [[VillainsActHeroesReact drive the story]], refine your conspiracy a little more. The definitive trait of ''any'' conspiracy is that it never appears completely evil at first, which leaves us with four distinct possibilities:

* [[VillainWithGoodPublicity A seemingly benevolent but evil organization]]. A rare form, usually falling within the circle-within-circles archetype, when the outside world and the lower ranks don't even know about its sinister true purpose.
* [[AncientConspiracy A very secretive organization]]. A common form, where the very existence of the organization, let alone their plans, is hidden from the non-conspirators. Often a HistoricalVillainUpgrade.
* A secret alliance between a secretive organization and a seemingly benevolent one. Basically, a combination of the above two.
* [[NebulousCriminalConspiracy A secret alliance between a seemingly benevolent organization and an obviously evil (criminal) one]]. Likely the most common form of conspiracies: the "good" organization is usually TheGovernment or other legitimate authority, whereas the "evil" ones are usually criminals or external enemies.

Unlike TheMasquerade, the conspiracy exists to achieve a clearly defined goal, an evil master plan, which, in turn, consists of many evil sub-plots. There are actually very few ultimate goals that a conspiracy may aim for:

* '''Power''' is by far the most common motivation. The sub-plots of a secret quest for power may concern either taking it (getting a elected into an office, taking over a company, an AncientTradition, or indeed, the [[TakeOverTheWorld entire world]]) or protecting it against new challenges ([[WhoShotJFK killing off the upstart rebels]], securing new resources, etc.). Normally, the power in question is political, but in a more speculative setting, it may also be mystical or magical.
* '''Destruction of some group'''. These conspiracies exist in order to completely annihilate certain people, either a specific group (e.g. out of revenge or racism), or the [[KillAllHumans entire humanity]] (aliens love doing this).
* '''Profit''' is common among the economic/banking institutions. Sub-plots often involve astronomic sums of money and huge deals.
* '''Survival'''. Such conspiracies are formed by people who learn about some impending doom (TheEndOfTheWorldAsWeKnowIt, AlienInvasion, etc.) and plan to survive it at the expense of everyone else.
* '''Science'''. Very rarely, They do it solely [[ForScience for the sake of scientific advancement]]. More commonly, though, science is but a stepping stone (see below) for power, profit, and destruction.

If you are writing a thriller and need to flesh out your villains, a very common personal motivation is self-gratification, i.e. the villains participate in the conspiracy in order to prove they are right about something or achieve others' recognition. The conspiracy on the whole, though, is very rarely motivated only by this.

Next up are the victims of the Plan. Who is going to suffer because of Them? Naturally, if They are targeting a specific group, it will be high on the list. In all other cases, Their villainy will in one way or another afflict the entire humanity or at least, a considerable part of it. When writing a thriller, you should concentrate on a single sub-plot of Their master plan and decide who exactly will be targeted in it. See also the Victims section below.

What methods do they use to achieve their current goals? There are actually quite a few: murder, kidnapping, [[StuffBlowingUp mass destruction]], {{human sacrifice}}s, [[TestedOnHumans human experiments]], [[BlackMarket illegal business practices]], {{blackmail}}, [[BlatantLies deception]], [[GasLeakCoverup cover-up]], [[TheAggressiveDrugDealer drug trafficking]], [[WaterSourceTampering water and food supply tampering]], [[EvilutionaryBiologist eugenics]], [[WarForFunAndProfit orchestrating wars]], [[FalseFlagOperation false-flag operations]], [[ArsonMurderAndJaywalking jaywalking]], etc. In a thriller, the protagonist usually witnesses only one sub-plot of Their master plan, so most of the operations above will remain out of picture (unless you are lucky enough to produce a LongRunner, then you are free to try them all out). The most common method is murder and you may throw in a few more from the list but don't attempt to cram everything in.

Most of the time, Their methods, as outlined above, are questionable enough to make for a good thriller but for an extra kick, you may throw in a MacGuffin to serve as the ultimate prize in your story.

* An [[ScienceIsBad obscure technology]] ([[WeaponOfMassDestruction WMD]], MindControl, [[GreenRocks fantastic energy sources]], particularly bad drugs, etc.)
* An [[ArtifactOfDoom ancient artifact]] (either a PublicDomainArtifact, or your own invention)
* A specific person or people (either one of the potential victims, i.e. a MacGuffinGirl, or some kind of [[SuperSoldiers super-specialists They are training]])

In the end, you have to end up with a brief summary of your conspiracy theory or a synopsis for your conspiracy thriller (minus the protagonist's involvement). It should go somewhere along the lines of "The [insert Their name here] have conspired with [insert Their ally's name here] to [insert the objective of Their current subplot here] by [insert Their methods here] at the cost of [insert Their victims here]". For some examples, see "Suggested Plots" below.

It may be a good idea to [[RippedFromTheHeadlines monitor the recent news to inspire you]] at this stage, since RealLife itself will often easily [[FreakierThanFiction top anything you come up with on your own]]. Same goes when writing your BackStory (see below).

And the last thing. Standalone conspiracy theories don't really need titles besides "[Insert Their name here] are conspiring against us to [insert Their objective here]" but you may want to pick a catchy title for your thriller story. See MadLibThrillerTitle for a number of classical thriller title examples and inspirations.

!'''Pitfalls'''
* The conspiracy theorists operate in the [[HistoricalInJoke gray areas of history]] that have not been properly studied (yet). Tread very lightly when incorporating major historical events into your narrative: your readers ''will'' go and attempt to prove you wrong with more historical evidence. Therefore, don't stray too far from the {{Canon}} but use BellisariosMaxim sparingly when the story demands it.
* On the other hand, don't delve too deeply into historical detail. You are writing entertainment, not a historical thesis. While a minority of readers will go and dismiss your theory as nonsense, the vast majority will, at most, look up some names and events in ThatOtherWiki, (hopefully) go "OhCrap, it's all true!", and carry on reading. That should be your goal, too.
* As tempting as it may be, do ''not'' try to compile a GrandUnifiedTimeline of the World from Their point of view. At best, you will be frustrated by the ungodly amount of source material, most of which you won't even need for your story; at worst, you will end up writing a lot of BackStory and very little ''actual'' story. Timelines and general sense-making are best left to the fans and [[TheWikiRule their nifty little wikis]].
* Do not confuse an AncientConspiracy and TheMasquerade: a conspiracy always has a plan and hides it from non-conspirators, while a masquerade simply hides the secret world from the NormalPeople.
* If you rely on the premise that AllMythsAreTrue for added esotericism or {{demythtification}}, you are running in constant danger of being SadlyMythtaken. While not fatal (after all, you are writing how it all ''really'' went down), straying too far from the canon may make some readers wonder why you chose to include those myths in the first place.
* [[SoYouWantTo/WriteAStory As with any story]], don't leave your ConspiracyThriller [[NoEnding without a resolution]] (as in, "resolution of the conflict between the protagonist and the conspiracy"). Be it exacting some revenge, rescuing his loved ones, restoring his country's honor, or [[DownerEnding killing him]], you must bring ''his'' story to a close. On the other hand, do ''not'' [[LeaveThePlotThreadsHanging disclose all of the conspiracy's secrets]] in the main text. Conspiracy theory is the one genre where narrative threads LeftHanging actually [[CanonFodder contribute to]] [[RiddleForTheAges the story quality]] and the readers are invited to [[WildMassGuessing participate]] in [[EpilepticTrees theorizing]] themselves (e.g. along the lines of "WhatIf this [[WhatHappenedToTheMouse long-missing character]] was actually behind that [[PlotHole unexplained event]]?"). And you get a SequelHook for free, too.
* Always [[{{Foreshadowing}} foreshadow]] your {{Reveal}}s in advance, otherwise they become {{Ass Pull}}s. But if you foreshadow it too much, it'll become TheUntwist. Don't overuse TheUnreveal, either. And for all that's holy, remember that a ShockingSwerve is not a twist.

!'''Possible Ways to Play With A Trope'''
* [[TomatoSurprise There is no conspiracy]]. A TwistEnding where after discovering "irrefutable evidence" of a conspiracy, your protagonist has to dismiss it completely and utterly as a coincidental chain of events, inflated by [[EveryoneIsJesusInPurgatory his own imagination and yearning for unorthodox truths]]. The DoubleSubversion is the discovery that the "rational explanation" above was but another trick of Theirs. Then, you continue the story right where it left off.
* Alternatively, you can [[InvertedTrope invert]] the subversion above and let the story start off as the protagonist's [[JustForFun mind game]], which eventually proves to be ''too'' real.
* Usually, They are expected to appear and act as a [[IAmLegion monolithic group]], so make Them experience internal struggles and schisms. Let the protagonist draw upon these to [[HeelFaceTurn gain allies]] and weaken the enemies. Contradicting motives is also one of the best ways to characterize your {{villains}}.
* Conspiracies are usually the antagonists, so you can have them actually [[BenevolentConspiracy be the good guys, or at least on the same side]]. Perhaps they are a [[AncientTradition benign but mysterious group]] working for a better tomorrow, and all the bad things actually ''were'' just [[RightHandVersusLeftHand misunderstandings]] or [[KnightTemplar members]] of the group having gone rogue. Or maybe it just looks that way.
* The masterminds behind any conspiracy are generally expected to be [[ManOfWealthAndTaste rich]], [[EvilOldFolks old]], [[MightyWhitey white]] men. So why not make your BigBad a [[Anime/{{Noir}} selfless, motherly woman]] or a [[JusticeLeagueUnlimited black woman devoted to her country]]? The motives that made such a character join and lead a conspiracy are infinitely more interesting to explore than those of an ISO-standard mastermind.

!'''Writers' Lounge'''
!!'''Suggested Themes and Aesops'''
* PowerOfTrust. Only by learning who you can really trust (which is [[TheyLookJustLikeEveryoneElse anything but trivial]] in this genre) can you triumph over whatever the PowersThatBe throw at you.
* One thing you can always do is to get GenreSavvy and explain ''just what exactly'' constitutes the audience appeal of conspiracy theories in general: RealLife is insanely complicated and, to be completely honest, it's often just a bunch of chaotic unrelated events caused by so many different factors that we simply cannot comprehend the links. But a conspiracy theory gives us a clear idea that ''something'' ([[spoiler:They]]) is behind all of this and since [[spoiler:They]] have an agenda, it all serves some purpose, after all.
** In other words, conspiracy is ([[PostModernism post-]])modern {{God}}.
* [[ReadingIsCoolAesop Learning history (and geography) is cool.]] A bit on the meta side, but a lot of well-written conspiracy thrillers, especially of the global AncientConspiracy variety, prompt the readers to read up on history (if only to prove the author wrong) and discover how many more fascinating stories it contains.

!!'''Potential Motifs'''
Motifs are essential to conspiracy theories. After all, a motif is defined as something recurring over and over again... doesn't that make you wonder, just who exactly ''[[ConspiracyPlacement placed]]'' those repeating patterns there to begin with?

* ArcWords. Related to the "finding a secret document" plot premise below, the ArcWords may serve as a perfect beacon for your search of the Truth. Can be upgraded to SpySpeak later in the story.
* ChessMotifs. The protagonist himself may or may not be a piece in the Grand Plan, but even if he is, he is rarely anything more than a pawn. However, it's the pawns who get a shot at [[TookALevelInBadass becoming Queens]]...
* EsotericMotifs. Any [[RuleOfSymbolism obscure occult symbolism is good]]. It's not called an "''Ancient'' Conspiracy" for nothing: if it's been here since TheMiddleAges, it has to feature some of the flair.
* [[ReligiousAndMythologicalThemeNaming Mythological Motifs]]. Use these either when AllMythsAreTrue or to emphasize [[AGodAmI Their god-like power]].
* {{Numerological Motif}}s. Admit it: you, too, want to know what's behind the enigma of the TwentyThree.
* {{Significant Anagram}}s. Are They trying to tell us something with those? Refer to the AnagramBin for inspiration.
* SinisterGeometry. Recurring geometrical patterns (like a pyramid... with an eye on top) are a dead ringer for a conspiracy, be it [[AlienGeometries aliens]], [[GeometricMagic magic]], or whatever They are up to.
* TarotMotifs. Like ChessMotifs and EsotericMotifs above.
* TechnoBabble. Frequent references to an [[{{Nanomachines}} obscure]] but [[{{Antimatter}} flashy]] technology really spice up an intellectuals' conspiracy plot, even when YouFailPhysicsForever yourself.

Not really a motif, but nonetheless important: every society has its RitualsAndCeremonies, and conspiracies are no exception. Research or make up some for yours. This is [[AppealToTradition particularly important]] to [[AncientConspiracy Ancient Conspiracies]], but other types can profit immensely from such details, as well. Consider following:

* InitiationCeremony. How, where, and when do They induce new members into Their ranks?
* SecretHandshake. How do They recognize each other outside Their secret meetings?
* How do They arrange said secret meetings in the first place?
* Any ArcWords They are required to [[SayingTooMuch recite every time They murder someone]] or when They are [[FamousLastWords dying Themselves]]?

In a speculative setting, you could ground your conspiracy's ceremonies in a RitualMagic of some kind.

!!'''Writing a Theory'''
So, how do you actually write a conspiracy theory? By now, you should already have the general concept for Their identity and Their EvilPlan, so it's time to flesh it out with historical detail. Note that for a standalone conspiracy thriller (especially if it's a movie), you don't need an elaborate conspiracy theory: simply mix your evil plan concept with some juicy historical trivia, add TheMenInBlack, {{Black Helicopter}}s, and the rest of the flair, and already you have more exposition than you can fit into a reasonably paced thriller. If you are doing a series, however, it's recommended that you put some effort into Their BackStory.

To start off, '''[[ShownTheirWork do the research]]'''. We cannot overemphasize this enough. Most conspiracy theories and thrillers get icy receptions because they leave their readers DanBrowned way too often. To avoid that, go ahead and read up on the history of the time period They have been active in. For instance, if TheKnightsTemplar are at the core of your conspiracy theory, you have nine centuries of European and Middle-Eastern history to traverse. Take a look at the popular UrbanLegends and, if AllMythsAreTrue is involved, actual legends, too. As you read, you will probably notice [[{{Motifs}} patterns]] and [[ConspiracyPlacement clues]] that fit perfectly into your conspiracy concept. Write them down for later! If you are doing a science-themed conspiracy theory, read up on the corresponding scientific research; if it's about political intrigue, study contemporary politics and sociology. Don't be afraid to draw inspiration from the already existing conspiracy theories (see, for instance, our UsefulNotes on UsefulNotes/ConspiracyTheories and CluesToTheConspiracy).

After you get acquainted with the subject matter, it's time to enter the mindset of a true ConspiracyTheorist--by committing what we here call "[[YouFailHistoryForever a historian's mistake]]" and violating the HanlonsRazor principle. First, assume that They ''are'' [[TheChessmaster smart enough to predict the outcome]] of [[GambitRoulette schemes of arbitrary complexity]]. Second, postulate that all events that would have benefitted your hypothetical Them and are usually explained with incompetence of those involved, were actually orchestrated by Them and said "incompetent" people were Their agents.

Now you are in the right frame of mind, so return to your studies and compose a narrative (or multiple narratives) detailing the progress of Their Plan in the style of a FauxDocumentary. Don't be afraid to alter your initial concept of Them if you find some juicy stories you want to include but cannot fit into it. On the other hand, feel free to [[RealityRetcon gloss over obscure facts that get in the way of the plot]] or present them [[TheShadesOfFact in a slightly altered light]]. If you lack a crucial piece that connects everything, you can [[LiteraryAgentHypothesis claim you learned the story]] from a SurpriseWitness who [[HeKnowsTooMuch knew too much]] or that you found a [[FictionalDocument secret manuscript]]. Remember, a conspiracy theory is a story, not a scientific work, so you are entitled to an ArtisticLicense (within reasonable constraints).

You don't have to go into detail just yet. Your first priority is to write an outline of Their actions from the beginning to the PresentDay; you can always expand the parts you like later. So, instead of chronicling everything and everyone, pick out the significant events (StockUnsolvedMysteries, wars, disasters, unexplained accidents, inventions) and famous personalities (nobility, politicians, clerics, scientists, artists) from your selected time frame. These will be [[HistoricalInJoke your framework story]] and [[BeethovenWasAnAlienSpy your dramatis personae]], respectively. Compose a coherent narrative that answers following questions: How were They involved with each significant event of Their time? How are said events even interconnected? Who among Their important contemporaries was/is one of Them, Their agent, or Their opponent (hint: the latter don't live long)? How close have Their come to Their goal by now? As you go, spice up your story (and flesh out your characters) with things your readers can relate to: {{greed}}, [[{{Horror}} fear]], {{love}}, etc..

One last note on using a ConstructedWorld as a setting. If it is an established world, either your own creation or someone else's and you are writing a conspiracy-themed {{fanfic}}, you must be very familiar with its {{canon}}, just like you would have researched RealLife history. If you [[WorldBuilding create a new world for your narrative]], you must write both an [[WrittenByTheWinners official history]] and a secret history for it.

And that is it. You now have your very own original conspiracy theory.

!!'''Writing a Thriller'''
A ConspiracyThriller can be likened to TheHerosJourney or the "[[TheSevenBasicPlots Overcoming the Monster]]" plot, in that your SeekerArchetype is TheHero and They are [[UltimateEvil The Monster]]. To make the story [[ItsPersonal more personal]], They are usually personified by TheMan and a few less prominent villains (see Casting Director section below). Although defeating even the most high-ranked of Their members doesn't [[DecapitatedArmy automatically defeat all of Them]], it may be a satisfactory resolution for your particular story.

* Since your protagonist is established as [[TheEveryman an everyman]], skip the [[TheHerosJourney miraculous conception part]] and start by establishing a '''[[NormalPeople sense of normality]]''', which your readers can relate to. Your hero's world is basically LikeRealityUnlessNoted. It's good to drop a few [[ArcWords plot-relevant hints]] here and there, e.g. inconspicuously introduce Their FrontOrganization, but nothing major yet. See the Location Scout's section for setting suggestions.
** [[InMediasRes For a faster kick-start]], place this part ''after'' the Call, with the hero reminiscing his former life in a "HowWeGotHere" monologue (a PrivateEyeMonologue works fine). You may even go all the way and tell the story in retrospect, [[AnachronicOrder shuffling the narrative completely]].
* The '''IncitingIncident''' (CallToAdventure) comes in form of a [[SpannerInTheWorks minuscule slip-up]] in the conspirators' [[ThePerfectCrime otherwise perfect plan]]. TheHero is now aware of Their presence, usually in one of two ways:
** Someone is [[AlwaysMurder murdered]] or [[AlienAbduction disappears under strange circumstances]]. Take this approach if you aim for a fast-paced thriller plot with a lot of suspense. It's the prevalent form nowadays.
** The protagonist discovers an [[ConspiracyPlacement important document]] (usually [[FictionalDocument fictional]]) that contains proof of the conspiracy's existence, or a SecretSocietyGroupPicture, or receives a MysteriousNote, or [[HeKnowsTooMuch witnesses something he really shouldn't]]. Use this for a more contemplative and thoughtful approach.
* The '''First Threshold''' often comes when the hero [[PullTheThread pulls on the first thread]] of the proverbial "[[MinorCrimeRevealsMajorPlot far more sinister plot]]". The ThresholdGuardians here are the conspiracy's first line of defense, designed to shoo away the less determined: TheMenInBlack show up on the hero's doorstep to tell him to mind his business; strange [[ThereAreNoCoincidences accidents]] occur; his [[DaChief boss]] gives in [[TurnInYourBadge to pressure from above]]... At the same time, the NormalPeople call him a crazed ConspiracyTheorist and [[UntrustingCommunity refuse]] to [[YouHaveToBelieveMe believe his words]] about [[IWasNeverHere eerie visitors]], [[ItWasHereISwear swiftly-removed evidence]], and [[TheLittleShopThatWasntThereYesterday hidden places]]. This is especially prevalent if he has the reputation of a CrazySurvivalist, a bad case of PoorCommunicationKills, or is [[NoTimeToExplain really short on time]].
** Since the hero usually [[TroubleEntendre fails to comply]] with Their demands, They will keep troubling him in even worse fashion until the end of the story.
** At this stage, however, your hero may also gain a [[CastCalculus precious few supporters]] who do believe and stand by him later. A particularly devious BigBad or [[TheDragon Dragon]] may sign up as TheMole here.
* In the '''Investigation Stage''' (roughly corresponds to the Road of Trials), your hero is aware of Them but They are not yet aware of him (or don't consider him a major threat), giving him [[RaceAgainstTheClock just enough time]] to collect his most important weapon -- information. In other words, this is where you get to the {{Exposition}} of Their BackStory, i.e. your theory. Note that while this part of the story is called "Investigation Stage", the actual investigation already begins with the Call and often ends just before the FinalBattle (see below).
* In the '''Despair Stage''', They finally make an active move against the hero -- and [[ThereIsNoKillLikeOverkill utterly crush him]]. The hero experiences a metaphorical (or even a [[NotQuiteDead temporary literal]]) death. His [[TheObiWan trusted mentor]] dies. His TrueCompanions either die or abandon him and everyone else he asks for help [[EtTuBrute betrays him]]. TheMole mocks him smugly. He has failed to stop Their plans. He has lost.
** If They are powerful enough, a great twist is to have him [[{{Unperson}} Erased From Existence]] by Them, which involves destroying evidence of his life and brainwashing his friends and family. Can lead to a temporary LossOfIdentity or land him straight at the [[CuckooNest asylum]].
* ...but the '''FinalBattle''' is not yet over. Slowly, the hero recovers. [[ThePowerOfFriendship His friends return]]. There's still sand in his hourglass. The final confrontation in most conspiracy thrillers is both a BattleOfWits and a [[RoaringRampageOfRevenge physical confrontation]] with the story's BigBad (usually, the nominal head of the conspiracy).
* And so it comes to an '''ending'''. Conspiracy thriller is a [[SlidingScaleOfIdealismVersusCynicism cynical genre]]. Sometimes, [[TheBadGuyWins They win and the hero dies]] -- or survives, only to live with [[MyGreatestFailure his failure]]. The hero may have defeated the BigBad -- but the [[SequelHook conspiracy still exists]] for They are many. The hero may have shattered Their Plan -- but [[KarmaHoudini most of Them go unpunished]]. Very rarely, the hero destroys Them for good -- but [[PyrrhicVictory at a terrible price]]. A HappilyEverAfter is just out of stock.
** If you are making a VideoGame, introduce MultipleEndings: the better the player performs in the Investigation Stage and/or the Final Battle, the better their conclusion is.

!!'''Writing the Investigation'''
The investigation is the centerpiece of a ConspiracyThriller, much like in the MysteryFiction, although it may at times be overshadowed by more pressing concerns ([[FightScene fights]], [[ChaseScene chases]], etc.). It spans for almost the entire duration of the story and usually beings with a [[CallToAdventure single motivating event]] (see above) and reaches its apogee when the protagonist discovers the true nature of the conspiracy. The latter event often involves infiltrating an [[ElaborateUndergroundBase important location]] and discovering a [[GreatBigBookOfEverything crucial document]] or [[OracularUrchin omniscient character]] who reveals everything else. The final stages of the investigation usually concern the [[TheVeryDefinitelyFinalDungeon location]] and/or [[VillainWithGoodPublicity identity]] of the [[FinalBoss final enemy]], against whom the FinalBattle is fought.

An investigation is essentially a {{quest}} for information on the conspiracy. It consists of a number of stages, during which the protagonist must find and decipher (two distinct sub-stages) a piece of information to proceed to the next stage. Most logically, deciphering one piece of information [[LinkedListClueMethodology gives the protagonist clues on where to look for the next one]], in addition to being a major {{Reveal}} in itself.

The [[CallToAdventure first stage of the investigation]] is invariably a Motivating Event (ME), which differs from all others in that it [[FreeSamplePlotCoupon doesn't have to be found]], only deciphered to kick-start the investigation proper (the First Threshold). Later in the story, more [=MEs=] can be introduced but too many of them ruin the plot coherence. Another special stage type is the Exposition Flashback (EF), in which the protagonist [[InfoDump relates the progress]] he has already made in the investigation to the reader. While useful to provide information that would otherwise fall outside the scope of the story at hand, [=EFs=] should not be used often, for the danger of [[ShowDontTell boring the reader]].

!!!'''Investigation stages'''
Excluding the initial [=MEs=], an investigation consists of a small number of find-and-decipher stages, which can be roughly subdivided into three distinctive types, depending on the end goal of the particular stage (see below). The number of stages depends on the number of PlotThreads:
* Statistically, an investigation story told from the perspective of a single character (the protagonist) consists of 4 to 7 major stages, excluding the initial Motivating Event.
* A multi-threaded narrative, related by [[TwoLinesNoWaiting several concurrent investigators]], consists on average of 8 to 10 distinct stages, with 2 to 6 stages for each character (most of them seen through the primary protagonist's eyes). Before the FinalBattle, however, all narrative threads converge into one or are [[LeftHanging cut short]] until only one remains.

An investigation stage is essentially a mini-quest that advances the overall investigation by rewarding the protagonist with new information about Them for considerable efforts on his part. Investigation stages are grouped into three types by the medium that contains the information on the conspiracy that the protagonist is after in that particular stage:

* '''Document Search''' (DS). In such stages, the protagonist is looking for a [[FictionalDocument small, mobile inanimate data source]]: letter, book, video- or audiotape, computer file, etc. The finding of the document is complicated by the fact that it can be effectively anywhere, while the deciphering (for important documents [[TruthInTelevision rarely contain data in plaintext]]) may be hindered by encryption, riddles, and codes. An additional intellectual effort is often necessary after the deciphering to [[JigsawPuzzlePlot fit the new information]] into the protagonist's existing image of the conspiracy. Pure DS stages are rare in modern conspiracy thrillers (at most, 1 or 2 in a story, often presented as quests for {{MacGuffin}}s) but for example, one of the most famous and respected examples of the genre, ''Literature/FoucaultsPendulum'', is composed almost entirely of DS stages.
* '''Person Search''' (PS). Here, the protagonist tracks down another character, who holds a piece of information. This can be a specific person or a generic specialist in the required field of expertise. Their allegiances may also vary: it can be a neutral informant (scientist, inside person, etc.), a fellow investigator (possibly, a secondary protagonist), or a villain (an agent of Them). It may be therefore more or less difficult to find and "decipher" (that is, persuade them to comprehensibly share) their information. One common variation of this, found in every other conspiracy thriller, is search for a character, normally a police officer or a [[IntrepidReporter freelance journalist]], who unsuccessfully [[OlderAndWiser investigated Them before]] (or, if they are [[HeKnowsTooMuch already killed]], to retrieve their [[ApocalypticLog investigation notes]], making it a DS). PS stages are best suited for smaller scale conspiracy thrillers and they create a [[ItsPersonal personal]], character-driven story.
* '''Location Search''' (LS). The protagonist must gain access to a certain stationary location, natural or man-made, usually, without prior knowledge of what he is looking for. His search is often hindered by Them [[SecretGovernmentWarehouse closely guarding it]]. To "decipher" a location, the protagonist must figure out where and how the required information is stored. Most commonly, the protagonist discovers an important document or a knowledgeable character, crossing over to DS or PS zone. Rarely, the location in itself is the source of information, for example, it is a crime scene, is home to [[AlienGeometries supernatural phenomena]], or contains revealing artificial structures. LS stages are most appropriate in larger scale conspiracy thrillers, as they allow for a frequent change of settings and decorations. In smaller scale conspiracies, a single LS stage is often found in the end of the story, when the protagonist looks for the final enemy.

Although in most conspiracy thrillers, the investigation is a linear process, presented from the primary protagonist's point of view, there are some common variations that allow increasing the plot diversity:

* Lost Thread. Upon completing the latest investigation and finding the sought information, the protagonist still has no idea where to look for the next piece. This plot turn often precipitates the Despair Stage of the overall plot or coincides with the discovery of the "final" piece of information that reveals the true nature and plans of the conspiracy. It is commonly solved by the protagonist switching his attention to another pressing concern (only to [[EurekaMoment come back later]]) or by an [[DeusExMachina external force]] coming to his aid. The latter, however, becomes a slight AssPull, unless properly [[{{Foreshadowing}} foreshadowed]] and justified.
* RedHerring. The protagonist makes a mistake deciphering an information source and reaches a dead end in his investigation after a few stages in the wrong direction, often leading to a Lost Thread plot turn. Considering an arbitrary limit on the number of stages in a story, red herrings [[TheLawOfConservationOfDetail should be used sparingly]] to avoid slowing the plot down.

!!!'''Outsmarting the reader'''
An investigation story remains entertaining as long as the reader has not figured out its secret, mainly: who are the perpetrators and what do they want. It is therefore imperative to always stay ahead of the [[FairPlayWhodunnit reader's own investigation]]. There are three possible approaches to this:

# Genuine intellectual and educational superiority of the author over the majority of the readers. Needless to say, [[ViewersAreGeniuses this is the hardest to attain]], but that's how the greats like Creator/UmbertoEco do it.
# [[TheWalrusWasPaul Deliberate]] [[MindScrew incoherence and ambiguity of the plot]], making the discovery of the author's true intentions literally impossible. The greats like ''TheIlluminatusTrilogy'' justify this with an UnreliableNarrator and heavy meta-lapses.
# Using constant suspense to prevent the reader from prescinding from the story. DanBrown is famous for using this in all of his books, creating tension with rapid shifts between multiple PlotThreads accompanied by [[WhatCliffhanger tantalizing cliffhangers]].

!!'''Writing dialogue'''
* When writing a ConspiracyTheorist's (or the MysteriousInformant's) dialogue, make extensive use of suggestive/leading questions. These have the advantage of being able to [[PlausibleDeniability deny you have ever said anything]], while, at the same time, subtly convincing the listeners that your theory is true by having them arrive to the same conclusions ''de facto'' on their own. The same reasoning also applies to the published text of your standalone theory, where suggestive questions can be also used to gloss over particularly weak arguments (''you'' don't leap to conclusions but invite the reader to).
* Dialogue is also a good place to drop {{Cryptic Background Reference}}s to Their other activities, outside the scope of Their current plot. A classical example (combining with the above): "[[ArmorPiercingQuestion Surely, you don't believe that the Cuban Missile Crisis was about Cuban missiles, do you?]]" One way to fit it in more naturally is to have it take place between TheHero and his MysteriousInformant at a SecretGovernmentWarehouse, as they go from exhibit to exhibit and the latter [[WeHaveBeenResearchingPhlebotinumForYears nails down the historic trivia]].

!!'''Suggested Plots'''
Here are some simple conspiracy suggestions to get you started:

* TheIlluminati are planning to release the new modification of {{mind control}}ling [[TheVirus flu virus]] by adding it into the [=H1N1=] vaccines in order to discredit, then take over the Red Cross.
* The Swiss banks have conspired with TheKnightsTemplar to blackmail the European Union into giving the Templars seats in the European Parliament.
* A secret research project by the US military is kidnapping [[PurpleEyes purple-eyed]] children, because they are the easiest to turn into psychic soldiers.
* The Bilderberg Club and TheGreys are secretly building a KillSat to bombard the Chinese to force them to drop the protectionist barriers.
* The {{vampire}}s have allied themselves with GRU to assassinate [[ReasonableAuthorityFigure the president]] who attempts to enforce blood transfusion control as part of his health care reform.

Also, you can use one of the following links to generate any number of plot ideas:

* [[http://www.alchemica.co.uk/conspire/discover.html c o n s p i r e : d i s c o v e r]]
* [[http://www.random-generator.com/index.php?title=Conspiracy_theories Abulafia Conspiracy Theory Generator]]

(Just make sure to deny any knowledge of TVTropes if you are caught using these.)

!'''Departments'''
!!'''Set Designer''' / '''Location Scout'''
Most conspiracy theories are narrated from PresentDay perspective to enforce a [[ParanoiaFuel sense of insecurity]] in the reader/audience, therefore it's a good idea to set your ConspiracyThriller in modern times, as well. Depending on the scale of your conspiracy, you may need a bigger or smaller set of decorations:

* For a [[SmallTowns small scale conspiracy]], you may want to invent your own TownWithADarkSecret or even a DyingTown, shaping it just the way you want it. You may also pick out a ''real'' town with dark secrets and take [[ArtisticLicense considerable liberties]] with it, provided most readers have never been there. The price of liberty, however, is that you must spend extra time familiarizing your readership with your setting first.
* The next step up is a LovecraftCountry[=/=]CampbellCountry, which is exactly like a TownWithADarkSecret, only a tick larger, allowing for an AdventureTowns sequence in the Investigation Stage. You may invent your own or choose an obscure rural back-country nobody knows much about and you must provide a seemingly normal BackStory first.
* Next up the scale are large metropolitan areas and cities (such as {{London}}, [[GayParis Paris]], [[NewYorkCity New York]], and [[TokyoIsTheCenterOfTheUniverse Tokyo]]). Any big old city has its share of dark secrets and {{Urban Legend}}s and you may reasonably expect anyone to know a bit about it. However, you are also bound to the local landmarks. Inventing your own city with a dark secret works but for all the trouble of fitting it into the world map later, you might as well write a [[ConstructedWorld whole new world]] from the beginning.
* Starting from a capital city, you may move on to a GovernmentConspiracy or an EmpireWithADarkSecret. The rules are basically the same as CampbellCountry above but you may use famous landmarks like {{Area 51}} (e.g. in connection with AncientAstronauts). Also, unless you opted for a ConstructedWorld or AlternateHistory, you should expect InternetBackdraft and death threats at this stage, thanks to the political implications of your work.
* [[SickSadWorld International conspiracies]] are our tip of the day. Not only are they more fun to write (you get the entire world to twist to your liking!), but you may also legitimately expect your readers to know the [[TheTropeHistoryOfTheUniverse basic history of the world]] without you telling them. UsefulNotes/{{Europe}} makes a great starting point because it is relatively small and tight-packed and has a bonus of well-documented and popularized history, which you, as an English-reading author, are [[SmallReferencePools most likely to be familiar with]]. From there on, your protagonist may travel all over the world for clues, e.g. UsefulNotes/TheMiddleEast is thinkable if you're dealing with TheKnightsTemplar legacy.
* For a more unconventional approach, set your conspiracy InsideTheInternet, not bound to a particular locale. CyberPunk conspiracies have become popular in recent decades, and there's obviously a reason for that: most people interested in technogenic conspiracies are intimately familiar with online and internet.

Remember, thrillers rely on epic dangers and rapid location shifts to upkeep the suspense, so don't limit your story to a single decorations set, no matter how small the scale. If you want to revisit a particular setting, you can make it a MacGuffinLocation or the protagonist's base of operations. In the latter case, it will most likely be [[AllYourBaseAreBelongToUs destroyed or taken over by Them]] in the Despair Stage.

In any case, do not forget to visit a SecretGovernmentWarehouse at some stage.

!!'''Props Department'''
* You will need {{Fictional Document}}s ''en masse''. While their contents are more important to the plot than the form, the latter may also be used to great effect. Imagine discovering a [[AncientEgypt papyrus with hieroglyphs]] or a [[BibleTimes cuneiform tablet]], foretelling Their actions in modern times. Sends shivers down your spine, doesn't it? Bonus points if the documents you use actually exist (but don't bother staying completely true to their word).
** A TomeOfEldritchLore or a GreatBigBookOfEverything are great, too.
** Have a couple of {{Apocalyptic Log}}s at hand, written by those who previously [[HeKnowsTooMuch got too close to the Truth]].
* Also consider throwing in a couple of {{Public Domain Artifact}}s to serve as {{MacGuffin}}s.
* Get a BlackHelicopter and a VanInBlack or two to transport TheMenInBlack, if available.
* Find a way to cram a StringTheory in there somewhere. Nothing spells "ConspiracyTheorist" quite as well as a wall full of random newspaper clippings under an intricate web of red string.
* A TinfoilHat may be a bit overblown but you can [[PlayedForLaughs play it for laughs]] or find an actual justification for its use.
* When writing an AncientConspiracy, you may face the need to give Them inhumanly long lifespan in order to better see Their plans through. In that case, some kind of ImmortalityInducer accomplishes this best without Them straying too far from humanity. One readily available option is the PhilosophersStone and its derivatives.
* Likewise, you may also help Them [[EasyLogistics circumvent the logistical issues]] of being omnipresent by giving them means of instant communication and travel over great distances. An arcane PortalNetwork spanning the globe does it nicely; place its entrances BeneathTheEarth (cf. the catacombs of {{Paris}}).

!!'''Costume Designer'''
Since most conspiracy theories are set in modern times, you don't need to give the clothing a lot of thinking. Just give your characters whatever seems appropriate to wear in contemporary urban areas and move on to more important stuff. There are, however, exceptions:

* A {{cult}}ist conspiracy or any remotely [[EsotericMotifs esoteric]] one will probably commission appropriate [[BlackCloak robes]] and [[InTheHood hoods]] for their members (a least, for the top rung).
* A GovernmentConspiracy and the bankers will mostly employ TheMenInBlack, [[BadassInANiceSuit Badasses In Nice Suits]] who wear SinisterShades, or the more old-fashioned ConspicuousTrenchcoat-sporting G-men.
* If TheMenInBlack are only used as armed enforcers, it may be a good idea to give them [[EliteMooks face-concealing SWAT-like gear]] instead. It's just as depersonalizing but [[AwesomeYetPractical more practical in combat]].

!!'''Casting Director'''
The characters in a conspiracy thriller can be generally assigned to four distinct groups: the heroes, the victims, the unaligned, and the villains.

!!!'''Heroes'''
Your protagonist is very unlikely to go against Them alone. Usually, he has a [[CastCalculus small cast of supporting characters]] who band together around him. Their distinctive trait is that they are all aware of the conspiracy's existence, as opposed to unaligned sympathizers (see below), who are held in the dark for their own safety. Sometimes, the protagonist acts completely on his own, with occasional help from otherwise uninvolved characters, but this is very rare.

* '''Protagonist'''. [[TheHero The leader]], often [[AgentMulder the believer]], and usually the one most motivated (see above) to [[ConspiracyTheorist unveil Their secrets]]. There are two flavors he can fall into: the ''Main Brain'' and the ''Infiltrator''. The [[{{Nerd}} Main Brain]] is the more [[ScienceHero intellectual hero]] whose trump card is his vast [[MrExposition previous knowledge]] (think [[DanBrown Robert Langdon]]); while the [[{{Badass}} Infiltrator]] is more of an ActionHero who [[StealthBasedMission gets in, cracks the codes, steals the data]] (think [[Series/TheXFiles Fox Mulder]]). Although both types require equal amounts of creative thinking, the Infiltrator is more likely to rely on others for {{Exposition}}. [[BadassBookworm Mixed]] [[CulturedBadass types]] are possible, especially if he acts without backup. Many protagonists possess such traits as extensive [[HistoricalInJoke knowledge of history]] and/or [[TechnoBabble high-end technology]], [[MadeOfIron exceptional physical condition]], and from time to time, [[PsychicPowers special powers]]. Background-wise, the protagonists are often scholars, [[PlayfulHacker IT specialists]], {{Cowboy Cop}}s, {{Intrepid Reporter}}s, {{Ordinary High School Student}}s, or {{criminals}}. There are three basic patterns your protagonist can be involved with Them (you can combine them if you wish):
** ItsPersonal. He holds a grudge against Them for [[YouKilledMyFather killing his father]], [[Series/TheXFiles abducting his sister]], [[AndYourLittleDogToo kicking his dog]], etc.
** PatrioticFervor. Includes national motives, with the protagonist setting out to protect public order or [[MyCountryRightOrWrong restore his country's honor]]. May be a CowboyCop taking a shot at ThatOneCase.
** SeekerArchetype. Probably the most common one, this protagonist is after The Truth just for the sake of it.
* '''Lancer'''. The [[TheLancer primary assistant and foil]] to the protagonist, who is very likely (3 to 1) to be of [[OddCouple the opposite gender]] (so let's refer to her as female from now on). The Lancer can possess pretty much any background and traits the protagonist can (except PsychicPowers) but usually acts as a {{Foil}}, complementing his skills. Her duties range from [[EurekaMoment giving the hero fresh ideas]] and [[MrExposition filling in the gaps]] to [[BigDamnHeroes bailing him out of trouble]] and [[VoiceWithAnInternetConnection remote guidance]]. The Lancer ''never'' [[EtTuBrute betrays the hero]] (that's TheMole's part) but may very well [[DeadSidekick die on him]]. If TheHeroDies instead in the middle of the story (thus moving into the Victims group), she [[TakeUpMySword completes the investigation]]. The Lancer can be introduced in several ways:
** Early in the story as a friend or relative of the protagonist. In this case, she is (at least, outwardly) one of the NormalPeople.
** During the Motivating Event, often as a police officer assigned to the case.
** Recruited in the end of a Person Search investigation stage. May be a former agent of Them (see also Defector below).
** Late in the story, when the [[TheReveal evidence of Their plans is revealed]]. ''Very'' commonly a law enforcement officer.
** Replaces the original Lancer (usually a friend from before), after she is [[DeadSidekick killed, kidnapped, or otherwise incapacitated]].
* '''Mole'''. See below under Villains.
* '''Mysterious Informant'''. The MysteriousInformant is an enigmatic recurring character whose agenda is even murkier than the rest. His function is to contact the heroes (but they rarely know how to contact him) and give them new data as required. Depending on where you want to go with it, he can be a [[AloofAlly member of the counter-conspiracy]] (see below), TheMole, a DefectorFromDecadence from Their ranks, or even a DragonWithAnAgenda.
* '''Organization'''. Sometimes, the hero is additionally backed up by some AncientTradition, LaResistance, a group of like-minded {{Conspiracy Theorist}}s (''a la'' TheLoneGunmen), or a GovernmentAgencyOfFiction. In this rare case, their help is very limited, consisting mostly of providing free resources (weapons), [[WeHaveBeenResearchingPhlebotinumForYears exposition]], [[GasLeakCoverup cover-up]], [[TheCavalry search and rescue]], and a few {{Red Shirt}}s for the FinalBattle. In any case, they don't play a big role in the story.

!!!'''Victims'''
The victims are the ones killed or otherwise hurt by the conspiracy, thus providing motivation for the heroes and [[KickTheDog reasons to hate Them for the audience]]. To increase [[DeathIsDramatic the emotional impact]], they should be introduced and characterized individually (because, sadly, {{A Million IS A Statistic}}).

* '''Lancers'''. As noted above, a lot of lancers [[DeadSidekick end up dead]] or [[FateWorseThanDeath worse]] in the course of their investigation.
* '''Earlier investigators'''. The protagonist's predecessors who [[HeKnowsTooMuch knew too much for their own good]]. If TheHeroDies, he is transferred here, too.
* '''Scholars'''. Harmless {{Absent Minded Professor}}s are especially likely to cross Their path by pure chance.
* '''Test subjects'''. Sometimes, They perform [[TestedOnHumans experiments on living humans]] (often [[MacGuffinGirl young]] and [[IllGirl female]]) ForScience, fun, and/or profit.
* '''Failed agents'''. Their agents who have [[YouHaveOutlivedYourUsefulness outlived their usefulness]].
* '''Rival groups'''. Individual members of the opposition or the [[ConspiracyKitchenSink counter-conspiracy]] to Them. If the rival group continues to exist after taking the hit, it may assist the heroes (see above).
* '''Women, children, and elderly''' in general make [[MoralEventHorizon good targets for murder and cruel experiments]].

Of course, these categories overlap frequently. Bonus points if the victims are personal friends or relatives of the heroes.

!!!'''Unaligned'''
These characters or groups are, at their first introduction, neither (obvious) agents of Them, nor directly involved in the heroes' investigation. They may assist the heroes in one way or another but the crucial difference between them and lancers is that they never learn the whole story. Although they form the majority of the cast at first, [[TheyLookJustLikeEveryoneElse many of them will be revealed to]] [[EvilAllAlong have been Their agents all along]]. Some, however, may get [[NeutralNoLonger promoted to lancers]]. Note that some "unaligned" characters may investigate Them independently but their attempts are futile (at best) unless they join the heroes.

* '''Friends and families'''. These people provide material and emotional support, help the heroes in a tight spot but are rarely told the full story (for their own protection). An important function of this group is to provide additional characterization of the heroes.
* '''Ordinary people'''. Businessmen, mobsters, government officials, scientists, medics, clergy, etc., who sell information and resources to the heroes and may occasionally bail them out of trouble. Most informants sought in the Person Search stages fall into this group.
* Organizations:
** '''Police'''. The police and other law enforcement agencies are a ubiquitous element in conspiracy thrillers. They are usually represented by a few [[InspectorJavert officers in charge]] and a number of {{Red Shirt}}s, who fluctuate between assisting and [[PoliceAreUseless hindering the heroes' investigation]]. They do, however, frequently join them for the FinalBattle. If the hero is a policeman himself, his DaChief will inevitably be a major figure in the story, either as a ReasonableAuthorityFigure, or a TreacherousAdvisor. Also, he will inevitably demand that the hero [[TurnInYourBadge turns in his badge]] at some point.
** '''Front organizations'''. A villainous FrontOrganization is commonly a MegaCorp but can be as small as [[MilkmanConspiracy a local cleaning company or a girl scout troop]]. Its heroic counterpart is normally so insignificant, its existence is a reveal in itself. A distinct subcategory of a villainous organization is a [[VillainWithGoodPublicity conspiracy with good publicity]], whose villainy is known to the heroes and the reader from the onset (whereas normal front organizations are revealed to be such long after their inconspicuous introduction).
** More organizations should be introduced in the manner similar to Their front organization to avoid giving the reader [[NoticeThis unnecessary clues]] too early. The best way to do that is by having already introduced characters to work for or otherwise be members of them.

!!!'''Villains'''
The villains are members of the conspiracy, who can be further subdivided into the heads and the hands when Their numbers are appropriately large.

* '''The Man'''. TheMan is the head of the conspiracy and the BigBad ''of the story''. Although there can be a ManBehindTheMan, who is the actual head, he doesn't play a large role in the narrative. TheMan is very often [[ManOfWealthAndTaste someone in position of enormous (public or hidden) power]]. Alternatively, he is a brilliant scientist or mystic. Or both. His skills include [[TheChessmaster analytical mind]], [[TheStrategist strategic planning]], CompellingVoice, [[ManipulativeBastard emotional manipulation]], [[TheMole acting]], and FlawExploitation. See our guide on how to SoYouWantTo/WriteAMagnificentBastard for more writing tips. Since he is Their strategic leader, he is responsible for most of Their wrongdoings, therefore his death (rarer, imprisonment) ends the story. The Man can be introduced at several points:
** Early in the story as TheMole (see below), who is revealed as the Man much later.
** Early in the story as an unaligned character, ditto.
** Late in the story, with his identity as the Man made obvious.
* '''Dragon'''. A secondary villain who has to be [[TheDragon defeated before facing the Man]] (e.g. he is the only one who knows the Man's identity), an EvilCounterpart to the Lancer. His identity is a less guarded secret than the Man's, as he works out in the field and later, [[SternChase pursues the heroes]]. He is usually more physically robust than his boss and specializes in combat and field tactics. His background is either that of a ProfessionalKiller, or [[AuthorityEqualsAsskicking military]] ([[ColonelBadass colonels]] and [[FourStarBadass generals]] are popular). A dragon is optional, since a particularly {{badass}} Man may not need him at all, or opt for a QuirkyMinibossSquad or CoDragons, who split the dragon's authority among themselves and are little more than EliteMooks (see below). Like the Man, the dragon can be introduced at several points:
** Early in the story as an unaligned character. Before his exact position in Their hierarchy is revealed, he may claim to be "the Man" himself.
** Early in the story as "the Man", before the real Man is revealed.
** Early in the story as the mole (see below).
** Later in the story, replacing an old dragon who was KilledOffForReal (use only in LongRunners).
* '''Mole'''. TheMole is a devious member of Them who joins the protagonist as a secondary or even primary Lancer to spy and sabotage his plans. Like the dragon, a mole is an optional character, appearing in ca. two out of three conspiracy thrillers. Half of the time, the mole is revealed to be the Man himself, otherwise he has a high chance of being the dragon. Even when the mole is a regular agent, the chances of him going through ConspiracyRedemption are very low. His background is fabricated to mimic that of a regular Lancer and he may [[ManchurianAgent not even be aware]] [[MemoryGambit of his true agenda]].
* '''Defector'''. A optional minor agent of Them who goes for ConspiracyRedemption [[DefectorFromDecadence for ethical reasons]]. In a way, the opposite of the mole. If female, she may be DefectingForLove.
* '''Agents'''. Regular, unnamed, and [[YouHaveOutlivedYourUsefulness expendable]] {{mooks}}, who only know what they need to know for their job and work only for money and, maybe, a higher rank in the conspiracy ladder. Their unifying property are their [[IAmLegion sheer numbers and anonymity]]. An additional distinction can be made between ConspicuousTrenchcoat-wearing [[BeingWatched spies]] and TheMenInBlack enforcers, who deal with troublemakers by intimidation or brute force.
* '''The Man Behind The Man'''. The ''real'' ManBehindTheMan behind a conspiracy may be someone who is never properly introduced, only hinted at in the story. TheMan himself may be the dragon to the Man Behind The Man (don't get confused now). Alternatively, multiple Men Behind The Man comprise TheOmniscientCouncilOfVagueness. They meet in a dimly lit room with [[TheFaceless their faces obscured]], engage in an ArcWords-filled CrypticConversation (which only makes sense once you know the entire story) and an occasional PalantirPloy, then disappear into darkness. The heroes will probably never meet them all in person (if they did, they'd inevitably discover [[VillainWithGoodPublicity a lot of familiar faces]]). As long as at least one Council member survives, the conspiracy [[SequelHook can continue on]].

!!'''Stunt Department'''
* A ChaseScene, where the protagonist is running for his life from Their agents, is a must have.
* If you must have StuffBlowingUp, stage a FieryCoverup.

!!'''Special Effects'''
* Use {{Scene Shift Caption}}s to help your readers/audience keep track of time passage and location changes. Not only is it helpful, it also conveys that distinct FauxDocumentary feel you are going for.

!'''Extra Credit'''
!!'''The Greats'''
%% This section is not a list of great conspiracy media in general. It should only contain works that can be taken as reference for writing your own conspiracy theories and/or thrillers. When adding an example here, please specify which writing lssons can be learned from reading/watching it.

* ''{{Illuminatus}}'' (1975) skillfully (and [[PlayingWithATrope completely straightly]]) used UnreliableNarrator, a global ConspiracyKitchenSink, and AllMythsAreTrue.
* ''Literature/FoucaultsPendulum'' (1988) [[DeconstructedTrope deconstructed]] the ConspiracyTheory genre viciously.
* ''Series/TheXFiles'' (1993-2002) managed to play conspiracy tropes straight in the LongRunner format, [[TropeCodifier codified]] the [[AgentMulder Hero]]-[[AgentScully Lancer]] dynamic described above.
* ''VideoGame/DeusEx'' (2000) put a ConspiracyKitchenSink into an [[VideoGames interactive medium]] and got away with it.
* ''VisualNovel/HigurashiNoNakuKoroNi'' (2002-2006) featured a very small-scale conspiracy with minimal fantastic elements.
* ''Film/HotFuzz'' (2007) is a GenreSavvy a small-scale conspiracy thriller mixed with BuddyCopShow with zero fantastic elements.
%%* ''SteinsGate'' (2009) explored the time travel conspiracy following John Titor.

!!'''SatireParodyPastiche'''
* [[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bielefeld_Conspiracy Bielefeld Conspiracy]]: Originally intended as satire, this theory proved unexpectedly plausible.
* "[[WesternAnimation/SouthPark Fantastic Easter Special]]": A brilliant parody of ''TheDaVinciCode'' below.
* ''[[http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-november-18-2008/cnn-s-magic-wall-conspiracy-thriller CNN's Magic Wall Conspiracy Thriller]]''.

!!'''The Epic Fails'''
* ''AngelsAndDemons'' and ''Literature/TheDaVinciCode'' offer an example on how [[DanBrowned/DanBrown NOT to write the back-story of a conspiracy thriller]]. They are still quite exciting {{thriller}}s, nonetheless.
* [[http://fstdt.com/fundies/Default.aspx?archive=3 Conspiracy Theorists Say The Darndest Things!]] is an archive of bad RealLife conspiracy theories culled from the internet. The same site hosts "Fundies Say The Darndest Things" (the original) and "Racists Say The Darndest Things", themselves good sources of bad religious and racial conspiracy theories.

!!'''Further Reading'''
* [[http://www.blogherald.com/2007/11/27/three-steps-to-building-your-own-conspiracy-theory/ "Three Steps to Building Your Own Conspiracy Theory" by Nancy Bixler]]
* [[http://www.conspiracybomb.com/azconspiracy.htm "The A-Z of Conspiracy" at ConspiracyBomb.com]]
* See also our ConspiracyLiterature list.
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And remember: there is no conspiracy. [[spoiler:fnord]]