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