November 24, 2006

Elements of a Thriller-1: Thriller vs Mystery

What is the difference between a mystery and a thriller?

From David Morrell, former president of the International Thriller Writers Organization:

"One crucial distinction is that traditional mysteries appeal primarily to the mind and emphasize the logical solution to a puzzle. In contrast, thrillers strive for heightened emotions and emphasize the sensations of what might be called an obstacle race and a scavenger hunt.... [T]he contrast is between emotion and logic, between an urgent pace and a calm one. True, the two genres can merge if the scavenger hunt of a thriller involves solving a puzzle. But in a thriller, the goal of solving the puzzle is to excite the reader as much as to satisfy curiosity.

"It’s interesting that, in recent years, some authors have blended elements of thrillers and mysteries into a hybrid (mostly involving serial killers) in which a detective’s solution to a heinous crime is presented in a harrowing fashion that is more typical of thrillers than mysteries. This sort of evolution is an indication of how creative these genres can be."

Carolyn Wheat, quoting from Trish MacDonald Skillman, provides Fifteen Differences Between Mysteries and Thrillers:

1. A mystery concerns itself with a puzzle. Suspense presents the reader with a nightmare.

2. A mystery is a power fantasy; we identify with the detective. Suspense is a victim fantasy; we identify with someone at the mercy of others.

3. A mystery can be likened to a myth. Suspense is more like a fairy tale.

4. In a mystery the hero or heroine already has the skills he or she needs to solve the puzzle. In suspense, he or she must learn new skills to survive.

5. In a mystery, thinking is paramount. In suspense, feeling is paramount.

6. The most important action in a mystery takes place offstage. In suspense, the important action happens onstage.

7. A mystery usually takes place within a small circle of friends. The hero or heroine of a suspense novel often finds him or herself thrust into a larger world.

8. Readers of mysteries are looking for clues. Readers of suspense are expecting surprises.

9. In a mystery, information is withheld. In suspense novels, information is provided.

10. The ideal reader of mysteries remains one step behind the hero or heroine. Those who read suspense should be one step ahead of the hero or heroine.

11. Mystery readers expect a series. Those who read suspense know a book can be a one shot.

12. The hero or heroine in a mystery is looking for suspects. The hero or heroine in suspense looks for betrayers.

13. A mystery hero or heroine must confront a series of red herrings. The suspense novel hero or heroine faces a cycle of distrust.

14. Mystery endings must be intellectually satisfying. Suspense endings must provide emotional satisfaction.

15. Mysteries are usually three hundred manuscript pages. Suspense novels can be longer.



Anonymous said...

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Quattro said...

That was a very helpful article. Thanks for compiling all those useful distinctions.