Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, or Horror?

Mystery, Thriller, Suspense, or Horror?
April 4, 2016 1 Comment For Authors, Writing Advice Nancy E Miller


I write romantic suspense, but there are times when I wonder about the specific differences between the genre and am I crossing over into mystery or thriller.  So I undertook a quest to find out what each genre has that the others don’t.

ClkerFreeVectorImages / Pixabay

ClkerFreeVectorImages / Pixabay

Mystery:  There is a question that drives the story.  Who dun it?  Who stole it?  Who left the refrigerator door open?  It doesn’t require danger or any more action than a soccer mom can handle.  On second thought, soccer moms can be real active shuttling those kids.  When you answer the question, the story is over.  Mysteries can be relatively simple, as in cozy mysteries, or highly complex with numerous plot twists and dead ends.

Thriller: Amp up the action!  What you have is a mystery (a question) with lots more action to get the heart racing.  Even in the written page, you hear the tires screech and your protagonist’s fist against the antagonist’s jaw. The conclusion is usually a dramatic encounter between the two and the answer to the question may or may not come to clear conclusion.  The protagonist may walk off with the question looming “What’s he going to do now?”  After all, we want a sequel, don’t we?  Many authors have made their stock and trade in the repeated adventures of their cash-cow protagonist.

Suspense: Ah, my genre.  In suspense, there needs to be impending doom.  Something horrible will happen to someone if the protagonist doesn’t answer the question and take out the antagonist within a time period.   The time limit doesn’t have to be specific as to date and time but it does need to exist in order to keep up the suspense. There has to be consequences if the time limit is breached…the bomb will go off, the contaminant will leak, the love interest will die. The protagonist should be personally invested which messes with their emotions and amps up the desperation.  There are three basic conflicts in suspense: love one is in danger, protagonist’s own life is in danger, and horror-desktop-background_102044_12hundreds/millions of lives may be threatened.

Horror: Not my genre.  I admit to being a complete wimp about horror…can’t watch it, can’t read it…okay, maybe I can, but definitely not zombies.  Horror hinges on suspense and keeping the reader turning pages as they bite their fingernails. The question to be answered is often ‘Who will survive to the end of the book’.  The conflict is survival and the consequences are clear.  The protagonist may not be the smartest or the bravest.  They may even be outmatched.  The antagonist may be in the shadows or right out in the open. The story may end with the antagonist living on to torture again.

So I hope this helps to define the similarities and differences between these genres. I know I learned a great deal doing the research.  Next week I will discuss the differences between Non-fiction, Creative Non-fiction, and Memoir.  What do they have to do with Fiction Writing?

[bctt tweet=”Do you think memoirs are completely factual? #amwriting #ourwriteside” username=”OurWriteSide”]


Nancy E Miller Nancy E. Miller, romantic suspense author of Shark Bait and Crystal Unicorns, lives near St. Louis with her husband and three dogs, pygmy goats, chickens and a cranky rooster named Ketchup. Her degree is in Psychology and Sociology. She has worked in education and mental health as a case manager and crisis counselor.
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    Memoir vs Creative Nonfiction: Can You Tell the Difference? - Our Write Side

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