The Difference Between Mystery and Suspense

Although mystery is an element found in every genre…what if there weren’t any secrets to uncover or bad guys to catch. Would you want to turn the pages and continue reading? Romance, romantic suspense, thrillers, historicial or many other genres all have some sort of element of mystery.

Mystery novels involve a puzzle–a game of whodunit. A crime usually happens and it’s up to the protagonist to uncover the truth. Plotting, planting fair clues (so the reader can play along), and ingenious investigative skills are all important when an author contructs a mystery novel.

In a suspense novel–a threat and imminent danger must be resolved not a puzzle being resolved.

Something is coming. Thunder.  Footsteps.  Bad guys. Run! Run! Run!

It’s the ticking bomb concept.

A suspense novel builds then ebbs creating an emotional rollercoaster. The author ensures it crashes at the right moment with a big bang.

The protagonist in a suspense novel is tossed into the role of the hero, in most cases without preparation or the necessary skills. He or she would rather be home with their family etc., but someone has made that impossible usually by putting the hero’s home or loved ones in mortal danger.

In suspense novels, the stakes are much higher, the threat reaches an impossible level.

A successful ending to a mystery novel should be intellectually satisfying, while the successful ending in a suspense novel should be emotionally satisfying.

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6 thoughts on “The Difference Between Mystery and Suspense

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  1. Never really could get that whole difference between the two genres, I even having a hard time between some mystery, suspense and horror. eeks, good definitions though. Thanks!

    1. I think so, Sheila. I also think readers need to understand the differences as well. I know I’ve received some pretty mean-spirited reviews stating they were disappointed because they bought a mystery and expected a mystery. Mystery is simply an element in suspense novels and I write romantic suspense. I really sometimes wonder if people are even looking to see what genre they are purchasing. Are readers too caught up in book covers and blurbs to even notice the genre?

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