After an epic, epic day, evening, and night of work, I have successfully answered all the e-mails that were in my Inbox, including 300+ queries. Query moratorium: lifted. In my next trick, I will solve the financial crisis while standing on my head and weaving a lanyard.
Last night, somewhere around query #250, I had an idea for a blog post: parsing out the difference between thrillers, suspense, and mysteries. They’re kind of interchangeable… and yet not, right? Then this morning reader Ralph Ellis e-mailed me suggesting I write a blog post on the difference between thrillers, suspense and mysteries. Either I’m becoming far too predictable or Ralph needs to sell his skills to the CIA. I’m hoping it’s the latter (and I’m not telling you Ralph’s lotto picks).
Here’s what I came up with last night. Yes, these are to a certain extent interchangeable and there is overlap, but here’s how I personally make the distinction:
Thrillers have action
Suspense has danger, but not necessarily action
Mysteries have mysteries, i.e., something you don’t know until the end
Now, before you start calling your novel a mystery thriller with suspense elements, know that I’m not overly concerned with genre labels. I’ve seen novels that were called one thing at the query stage, something else at the submission stage, and still something else at the publication stage. For your query, just shoot for the bookstore section it would be in and call it a day.
At the same time, it is valuable to know the conventions of the genre(s) in which you’re writing. These different subgenres have different expectations when it comes to plot revelations and pacing. For instance, with a thriller, you might know who the killer is from Page 1, but you’re riveted by the chase — and the action needs to be punctuated at key moments. For suspense, you might know who the killer is from Page 1 but there could be a slower pace and you’re riveted by the sense of danger. But for a mystery, you might not know who the killer is until the very end.
These labels slosh around a whole lot, so again, don’t sweat them too much. And if you’re confused, just wait for Ralph Ellis to e-mail you. He’ll know.
UPDATE: Jessica Faust at BookEnds covered a similar topic today, so check that out as well.