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?
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