Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Speaking of suspense. . . how does suspense differ from mystery?

In this week's Book-A-Week Challenge we're reading a suspense novel by Carla Neggers.

Speaking of suspense. . . how does suspense differ from mystery?

Have you as a reader wondered this? As a writer I know I sure have! Afterall, is it not my job as an author to know and understand what I am writing so I know who will want to read my book. (shh. . .I think that's called knowing your target market.)

Barbour Publishing gives a pretty clear definition of the two genres. “A Mystery is set up as a maze to be navigated by the protagonist or solver. A Suspense is best represented as a coil that tightens in around the protagonist. A simplified generalization would be to say in a mystery, the protagonist is on the offensive-actively searching and solving, while a suspense puts the protagonist on the defensive-running and evading the villain as time runs out.”

If that's not enough information, I thought I would share my take on the difference between mystery and suspense. Feel free to share your own thoughts.


A mystery contains a puzzle to be solved and may revolve around any crime, not necessarily a murder victim, though a murder victim is common.

A mystery focuses more on the hero/heroine solving the crime.

In a mystery, the reader identifies with the detective (the person solving the mystery).

In a mystery, the protagonist already has the skills he or she needs to solve the puzzle.

A mystery is a puzzle where the answer is hidden until the end with many red herrings along the way.

The reader has to distinguish between real clues and red herrings, and the protagonists solve the problem/crime by the end of the story.

In a mystery, information is withheld.

The hero or heroine in a mystery is looking for suspects.

Readers of mysteries are looking for clues.


Suspense involves a character in peril and has more of an element of danger.

Suspense can have an antagonist who is "out to get" either the hero or heroine and is the one creating the problems. The antagonist may or may not be known until the very end.

In a suspense, the reader identifies with someone at the mercy of others.

Romantic suspense focuses as much (or nearly as much) on the developing romance between the hero and heroine as it does on the suspense plot line where the plot's twists and turns eventually threatens the hero’s/heroine's life.

In suspense, the protagonist learns new skills to survive.

The suspense plot line focuses more on disarming the danger than solving a puzzle.

The suspense novel hero or heroine faces a cycle of distrust.

Suspense is just that . . . Keeps the reader on the edge of the seat.

In suspense novels, information is provided.

The hero or heroine in suspense looks for betrayers.

Readers of suspense are expecting surprises.


Linda Houle July 22, 2009 at 8:33 PM  

I enjoyed your blog defining mystery versus suspense!

Denise July 22, 2009 at 9:45 PM  

Thanks, Linda.

Was fun trying to put it into words.

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