Mystery vs. Suspense – Immediately related or twelve-times removed?
The answer requires defining the two genres. Although the two are related, they are more like shirttail cousins than brother and sister. The main difference is perspective. Both deal with a crisis event to hook the reader and keep the plot moving, but the storytelling approach is completely different.
A famous actor is murdered in Chapter One. In a mystery the rest of the story would center on two things: discovering who committed the act and the person or persons responsible for solving the crime. A good mystery writer often spends his time setting up suspects and clues, revealing little until the end of the story.
A suspense story creates drama before the crisis event occurs. For a good suspense story to work, what’s at stake is generally stated at the beginning of the story, and often the reader knows important details such as the who, why, and when, early on. The suspense writer must create tension by inserting a strong protagonist and developing inventive story paths that avert a certain outcome. Unlike a mystery writer, he can write from the point-of-view of the antagonist, pitting him against the protagonist throughout the story.
While the above outlines the traditional confines of the two genres, as an avid suspense reader I have to say not all books categorized as suspense fit the definition exactly, as do their mystery counterparts; there is frequently a lot of overlap between the two genres.
Today’s Indie writers have a whole new realm of genre freedoms not always available to the author who chooses a more traditional publishing route. And we are seeing the birth of more and more cross-genre novels, which gives readers a much wider selection of novels to choose from, and has the added bonus for writers of seducing a new generation of readers to their stories.
Thanks for visiting my blog. I love reading suspense. My first novel, She’s Not There was written as suspense but also has elements of mystery. Which do you prefer? I find the traditional mystery plot not as satisfying as suspense or a combination thereof, but that is what makes the new wave of crossover genres so compelling—it offers so much more variety to readers.
Please take time to let us know your preferences! I’d love to hear from you.
Note – Some of the above is taken from Simon Wood’s article, “9 Tricks to Writing Suspense Fiction."