Thrillers, suspense, and mysteries…
Here are how I’d denote the differences. Yes, these are to a certain extent interchangeable and there is overlap, but here’s how I personally make the distinction.
The difference between thrillers, suspense, and mysteries
- 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 most literary agents are not going to reject you just because you get the precise genre wrong. 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 a query letter, just shoot for the bookstore section it would be in and call it a day.
It’s important to know your genre
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.
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Art: Verbotene Literatur by Félix-Henri Giacomotti
Jill Lynn says
I lurk, but don't comment often. This to-the-point post (say that three times…without spitting) warrants a bravo. I finally know my WIP is a mystery. Thank you, also, for easing my mind about being exact in defining my genre in queries.
Nathan, I think I wrote a mystery/suspense novel. I got a response from Christopher Little – he looked at the first pages and said, no! I also got a response to my query from The Literary Group International (yes and they say they don't). They wanted me to kill the first three chapters. So I put it up on Amazon, Deaths & Disappearances. It's LOve Story meets voodoo, meets murder with even a vampire thrown in the mix. Was I wrong to call it a psychological thriller? Is that why they shot the love story elements down? I won't change this book, but I will try harder on the next one. Please advise.
What according to you will hook the viewers/readers throughout more, a suspense, thriller or a mystery?
See, now I'm just a little in love with you Nathan! Every time I Google any sort of literary question, your blog comes up with an answer. Thank you!