Monday, May 13, 2013

Mystery vs. Suspense: The 8 Keys

All novels, or rather, all good novels, have elements of mystery and suspense-it's the nature of the beast.
Thanks to Enriquepascal
But, what if you want to write a novel that is considered mystery or suspense? What is the difference between the two?

I read a lot of books about mystery and suspense in order to write my latest novel, Gravediggers.(Due out in Oct. 2013-yay!) After I wrote the first draft, I discovered I wasn't writing a suspense novel like my other books, but instead was writing a mystery and I didn't know how to do it properly. My favorite and most helpful resource by far was How to Write Killer Fiction by C. Wheat.

I've adapted her list of differences between the two for you.

1.It's all about the clues-your character needs to sift through the clues to find order.
2.You have suspects and there is only a few-as clues are uncovered the list of suspects narrows.
3.You'll write in some red herrings- false leads that take the character away from the truth
4.Your "detective" has skills to uncover the "murderer"  
5.Your reader is 2 steps behind the detective-reader doesn't discover who-done-it until the very end
6.The question is who killed X?
7.Information is withheld-this creates tension.
8.The satisfaction of reading is intellectual-most emotion is buried and hidden beneath secrets-you, as the reader, want to discover, figure out who did it.

1. It's all about surprises-your character is plunged into chaos.

2.There are betrayers and the hero's world gets bigger and more dangerous

3.You have cycles of distrust-characters that the hero trusts turn out to be untrustworthy

4.Your "hero" learns skills he/she needs-the hero must become someone else to prevail

5.Your reader is 2 steps ahead of your character- the reader is yelling at the book-don't go in there! to the main character. They know what awaits the character.

6.The question is whether or not the hero will prevail

7.Information is given that leads the character to his/her next step. It creates anticipation.

8.The satisfaction of reading is emotional-the ups and downs of the main character-readers like to see the struggle.        

Do you like the intellectual nature of the mystery or the emotional roller coaster of suspense? 

Which of the two would you rather write? 



  1. I believe the freedom of Young Adult writing is that you can mix the two a bit. However I personally believe Mystery is a bit easier to write than suspense.

  2. I'd say any kind of writing is hard!! But I like a combination of the two.

  3. Thanks for breaking this down. :)

  4. More the spine tingling wait to see how the hero prevails in suspense against the odds. But when I was younger I was really into Nancy Drew so Mystery probably would've won back then.

  5. I like both reading and writing a great mixture of both!

  6. great article! I prefer suspense, it's closer to my heart because I can "feel" the story better.

  7. This is awesome and actually clarified what I am writing. Thanks!

  8. This was great! Personally, I think the intelligence involved with solving a mystery makes a character memorable to me. I like the idea of reading suspense, also, because I get to know the character's strengths and weaknesses both, but I prefer mysteries. (I'm probably biased since I write mysteries, though.)

    Amanda @ Writing Cozy Mysteries

  9. I prefer reading and writing suspense over mystery. Nice write up. Thanks