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  • J. J. Hanna

Suspense/Crime/Mystery??? HELP!!!

Updated: Dec 11, 2019

If you're new to the genre, or even if you've read many books in the genre but haven't tried to write one until recently, you're probably where I was not long ago: confused.

Suspense, Crime, Mysteries, and Thrillers are all under the umbrella categories of Suspense and Mystery. There are many subgenres, but Crime and Thrillers tend to be the most popular.

But what is the difference between these things? What makes it a mystery and not a thriller? What makes it crime and not procedural? I watch a lot of crime shows on TV and their protagonists are usually law enforcement. Is that true in books, too?

In an article he wrote for Writer's Digest, Simon Wood describes the difference between Suspense and Mystery this way: "Suspense creates drama before the crisis event while mystery starts its thrill ride after the crisis event."

The next thing that determines the genre is who the characters are.

If your protagonist is a cop/FBI agent you're probably writing a police procedural. Most of the action will be determined by time spent in the precinct or office, up until the final showdown. You're showing how the protagonist solves the crime. (This is usually mystery.)

If your protagonist is a criminal, now you're writing crime. The action arrises because of the criminal's past or present actions. The main story follows them as they commit more crimes. (This is usually suspense.)

If your protagonist is an international spy, you're likely writing a thriller. The story will cross national boarders and any crimes the spy commits will likely be written off because they work for a government.

But J. J., my story starts with a huge crisis! Then the protagonist is thrust into the solving of a mystery. Where does that fit?

That, my friend, is why the genre's are so closely related. In that case, you're writing a mystery with suspenseful elements.

One of the main things to keep in mind with suspense is that there are consequences for tardiness. Usually you're dealing with villains who set a timer--the bomb will go off if the protagonist doesn't find it by noon and disarm it, they'll kill the hostages if their demands aren't met by 3 P.M.

The mystery exists in this type of story because the protagonist has to follow the clues to both the villain and the threat, the suspense exists because the protagonist can't be late and things keep getting in their way.

So whether you're writing suspense, crime, mystery, or thriller, research the genre just enough to know the general flow. Once you know the flow of those stories, yours will more easily fit in the genre which will help when you try to sell it to a publisher.

Good luck with your writing ventures this week!


J. J. Hanna is a Professional Writing major at Taylor University. In her spare time she creates YouTube Videos and Comics, and practices Karate at a local dojo. If you have a writing question, she'd love to hear from you! She is also looking for freelancing work, so if you have editing, beta reading, or writing needs, or would simply like to chat in a consultation, please let her know. Like what you see and want to get more content like this, or have your specific questions answered? Check out how you can support her on Patreon for as little as $3 a month.


This week's video, an update on J. J.'s writing and reading:

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