Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mystery Suspense Sub-genres

by Jill Williamson & Mindy Starns Clark

Since I've been talking about mystery and suspense in my last few posts, I thought you all might find this list helpful. Like many other genres (fantasy, romance), there are many sub-genres that fall under the mystery/suspense heading. This is not my area of expertise, so I've consulted an expert.

Mindy Starns Clark is the bestselling author of 20 books, including the "Million Dollar Mysteries" series and the "Smart Chick Mystery" series, as well as the nonfiction how-to guide The House That Cleans Itself. A singer and former stand-up comedian, Mindy is also a popular inspirational speaker and playwright. Born and raised in Louisiana, Mindy now lives near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, with her husband and two daughters. For more information, visit her website at www.mindystarnsclark.com.

Thanks Jill, I’m happy to help out. In general, I like to differentiate the genres this way:
• In a mystery, you don’t know who the killer is until the end; though mysteries can be very exciting, the primary focus is on solving the puzzle and figuring out whodunit.
• In suspense, you may know who the killer is—or at least experience the killer’s point of view—but the goal is the “emotional roller coaster” of watching the hero’s struggle to escape great danger.
• A thriller can be suspense or mystery, except that the stakes are higher—i.e., the entire town/country/ world is in danger, not just one person.

Under these primary definitions, there are also numerous sub-genres. Here is a list of some of the most common mystery/suspense/thriller subgenres and their definitions:

Amateur Sleuth – the person solving the mystery is not a professional crime solver

Amish-Related – the mystery or suspense is set in or near an Amish community and features at least some Amish characters

Caper/humorous – involves witty narration, scrambling action, and bumbling but lovable characters

Cat/Dog – features a canine or feline primary sleuth

Classic whodunit – has a plot with a strong puzzle element

Closed-room mystery – has a specific, limited number of suspects, usually all of whom are called together at the end when the killer’s identity is revealed.

Cozy – a mystery with no excessive violence or offensive material, usually solved by an amateur sleuth; the tone generally has a “cozy” feel and focuses on the family, friends, community, profession, hobby, or some other defining niche element of the main character

Crime – set among criminals rather than crime fighters; concerns revenge, vigilante justice, or the successful commission (rather than detection) of a crime

Culinary – set primarily in the “foodie” world, usually with a professional chef or similar as the protagonist

Espionage – deals with the world of spies and spying

Forensic – focuses on the post-mortem sciences such as pathology and entomology

Gothic – dark in tone and plot, usually involving a large, creepy house in a secluded location and hidden family secrets

Hard Boiled – features a weathered, cynical private investigator in a dark and corrupt urban setting

Historical – set in an era substantially prior to the date the book was first published

Legal – features a lawyer as the protagonist and usually includes a number of courtroom scenes as the drama unfolds

Medical – involves a hospital or other medical setting and features a medical professional, such as a doctor or nurse, as the protagonist

Police Procedural – told from the point of view of a law enforcement officer, with a realistic depiction of an official investigation

Private Eye – features a non-police detective, usually a paid professional investigator

Serial killer – typically has a higher level of random violence, explicit gore, and serious mental illness than other genres

SF mystery – conforms to the standards of both crime fiction and science/speculative fiction

Supernatural suspense – same as suspense, but with a supernatural element (such as time travel or magical powers)

Woman in Jeopardy – suspense based on a female protagonist who must defend herself from increasing danger

Did you know there were so many sub-genres that fell under mystery/suspense/thriller? If you're writing one, which sub-genre is your story? If you're not writing one, which sounds the most interesting to you?

Also, we're giving away a copy of Mindy's Beauty to Die For. Enter on the Rafflecopter form below.



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33 comments:

  1. *Faints with relief* Phew! I almost had a heart attack this morning when it said "this blog has been removed."

    Handy list! I had no idea there were that many different sub-genres.

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    1. I know! Me too. That was scary.
      There are sub-genres of sub-genres of sub-genres...

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  2. Wow, I never thought about how many sub-genres there are! I personally like the classic who-dunit, amateur sleuth, and cozy mysteries - something that'll make me think, but won't creep me out too much.
    My sisters, though, love the forensic sub-genre and the other tougher stuff.
    I think the last mystery series I read was Gilbert Morris' "Cat Detective" series.

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    1. Ooh, never read that one, Anna. I'll have to look into it. :-)

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  3. You're a woman of many professions, Miss Clark! Though you can't hear me, I'm applauding.

    I think my favorite mystery is "Dying to Read" by Lorena McCourtney The book revolves around an amateur sleuth named Cate. :)

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    1. I've read some of Lorena's books. She's writes funny books.

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  4. Wow, I didn't know some of those genres existed! I like the sound of a gothic, maybe mixed with some fantasy. In fact, I just realized that I already had a partly-formed idea already going in that direction.

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  6. A favorite mystery novel of mine is "Dust" - it was fantastic, like a supernatural historical suspense with lots of mystery thrown in. I only recently read it and now it is in my top ten favorites!

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    1. Interesting. I'd like to read Dust. Who wrote it?

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  7. I love mysteries. I could never write them, but I love reading and watching them. The one mystery that really sticks out to me as... weird was Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. That one was strange, but I liked and I can still remember who was the murderer : )

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  8. I'd have to say that The Sherlock Files: The Beast of Blackslope by Tracy Barrett is my favorite.

    ~Katie

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  9. This is going to sound so cheesy, but my favorite mysteries have ALWAYS been Nancy Drew. I'm pretty sure I read all of them when I was in fourth grade. :-)

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    1. I read all of them too, Ashley. And it's not cheesy! Nancy rocks. And so do Frank and Joe. :-)

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  10. Wow, I had no idea there were that many sub-genres!

    I used to love amateur sleuth stories like classic Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden.
    I like Agatha Christie's books too :)

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    1. I should read an Agatha book. I think I need to.

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  11. Mindy Starns Clark is one of my absolute favorite authors! I'm thrilled that you interviewed her for this, and I am definitely bookmarking this helpful post. :D

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    1. She's a really nice person too. She keynoted at a conference I attended, and I loved listening to her. :-)

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  12. I used to love Trixie Belden. She was my absolute favorite suspense series. I love nearly any kind of suspense/thriller. I recently discovered Alex Rider (Thank you, my dear BFF), and fell in love with that series too.

    I really enjoyed this post!

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  13. I haven't read much mystery novels other than a bunch of Nancy Drew ones. Is supernatural suspense same as fantasy suspense/horror because that's what i mainly write in.

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    1. Nope, those would be different. Supernatural deals with angels and demons. And fantasy deals with made up places (Middle Earth, Hogwarts) or creatures (dragons) or beings (orcs, elves).

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  14. Fascinating post to read through! I had no idea that the world of mystery-writing was so developed! I've always enjoyed a good mystery (from Trixie Belden to more recently, Agatha Christie) although I've never tried to write one...

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  15. Mystery is my favourite genre! Sherlock Holmes is my favourite fictional character.

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  16. Aww...I love mystery. :) Great post, thanks.

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  17. Oh, oh! I love giveaways! Even when I don't when, I just love entering!

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  18. I love mysteries! My favs are Sisters Grimm and Nancy Drew! :D I've never tried writing one though. I do have a bit of an idea for a horror/thriller though...

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  19. I have always loved mystery. I have tried to write a mystery once, it didn't get past the first five chapters.

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  20. I enjoy mysteries. I'm kinda of working on one right now. Some of my favorites were... when I was younger at least, The Bobbsey Twins, and the Happy Hollisters. I also enjoy The Sister's Grimm, and lots of stuff. :D

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