Article: What are Mystery, Thriller and Suspense Genres? by Sandy Cummins

What are Mystery, Thriller and Suspense Genres? by Sandy Cummins

Article: What are Mystery, Thriller and Suspense Genres? by Sandy Cummins



The whole point of the story is the big reveal of the bad guy at the end.

There must be enough information in the story pointing to the real villain that when they are revealed you can think back and go, “oooh, I can see that now!” However, there should not be enough or be so unsubtle that you figure it out very far before the end of the book!

You need to either have enough options for bad guy that you can’t decide between them, or so little idea that you don’t even have a clue where to look. (But not in a bad way so that the villain appears contrived at the end!)

Many people say that mysteries are the most cerebral, as they are a puzzle for the reader to solve.

According to David Corbett for ‘The Writers Digest’,

The basic plot elements of the mystery form are:

  1. The baffling crime
  2. The singularly motivated investigator
  3. The hidden killer
  4. The cover-up (often more important than the crime itself, as the cover-up is what conceals the killer)
  5. Discovery and elimination of suspects (in which creating false suspects is often part of the killer’s plan)
  6. Evaluation of clues (sifting the true from the untrue)
  7. Identification and apprehension of the killer.”

Keywords: Puzzles, clues, investigation.

Famous Examples: Agatha Christie is probably the best-known mystery writer of all time. Mary Higgins Clark is a very close second!




Suspense is about tension and what may happen. The reader knows the main character (protagonist) is in danger from the start, but the protagonist may become aware of danger only gradually.

An important difference between Mystery and Suspense is that in a mystery, the reader is exposed to the same information as the detective, but in a suspense story, the reader is aware of things unknown to the protagonist.

According to Suspense vs. Thrillers By Stacy Green:

“Suspense is subtle, building with the story. It’s slower-paced (not boring, but the action scenes are more calculated and the pacing is different). Readers might be inside the bad guy’s head in some suspense novels, but they don’t always know his true identity. In most suspense novels, the main character starts out with very little sense of danger and is simply thrown into a situation.”


Libby Fischer Hellman, a Best Selling Crime Writer, says, “Suspense is not so much what is happening, as what may happen. It’s about anticipation, often anticipating the worst. It is about creating an uncertain situation in which the outcome is in doubt. It’s asking a question not immediately answered, raising a concern not immediately addressed, posting a threat not immediately resolved…Suspense depends on stretching time – delaying answers as long as possible.”

Keywords: Anticipation, uncertainty, doubt, suspense.

Famous Examples: Famous suspense authors include Stephen King, Nora Roberts, and Alfred Hitchcock movies.




In a thriller the protagonist is in danger from the outset, and the villain drives the story, whereas, in a mystery, the protagonist drives the story.

While Mysteries are mostly about your brain, solving the puzzle of the crime hopefully slightly before the protagonist of the book does, a thriller is about the emotions. Fear, excitement, doubt, dread…

They are all about the adrenaline pumping! (And I mean for the reader:)

An easy definition is that thrillers are a combination of mystery and horror.


According to Suspense vs. Thrillers By Stacy Green, “Thrillers are more like a terrifying, nine-hundred turn roller coaster. Fast, slow, fast, dip, circle, quick pause, and then start all over again. And don’t forget the gigantic ticking clock in the background. That’s a must in a thriller, but it doesn’t always have to be a high concept, end of the world or bust deal. The stakes can be local (saving the next woman from becoming a victim) or global, as in War of The Worlds.”


James N. Frey, author of HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD THRILLER and HOW TO WRITE A DAMN GOOD MYSTERY, says, “In a mystery, the hero has a mission to find a killer. In a thriller, the hero has a mission to foil evil.”


The International Thriller Writers organisation characterises a thriller as: “the sudden rush of emotions, the excitement, sense of suspense, apprehension, and exhilaration that drive the narrative, sometimes subtly with peaks and lulls, sometimes at a constant, breakneck pace.”


According to David Corbett for ‘The Writers Digest’, “The plot often proceeds along these lines:

A devastating crime is about to be committed or has been committed with the threat of an even worse one in the wings.

The perpetrator is known, but his guilt is not absolutely certain–or the hero wishes not to accept the truth of his guilt. (The uncertainty enhances the suspense.)

The hero is under constant attack as she tries to definitively prove the perpetrator’s guilt and/or stop the next atrocity. (Note the difference from the mystery genre, where the villain typically remains hidden.)”


Keywords: Action, Danger, fear, excitement…


Famous Examples: authors Tom Clancy, John Grisham, and Clive Cussler.

– Return to Articles Page –

One thought on “What are Mystery, Thriller and Suspense Genres? by Sandy Cummins

Leave a Reply