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Writing Industry

What is the difference between Mystery and Suspense

This list by Carolyn Wheat was a good read especially for writers of mystery or suspense. Number 12 is spot on: “A mystery asks: who done it? In suspense the question is: What’s going to happen?”

  1. A mystery concerns itself with a puzzle. Suspense presents the reader with a nightmare.
  2. A mystery is a power fantasy; we identify with the detective. Suspense is a victim fantasy; we identify with someone at the mercy of others.
  3. A mystery can be likened to a myth. Suspense is more like a fairy tale.
  4. In a mystery the hero or heroine already has the skills he or she needs to solve the puzzle. In suspense, he or she must learn new skills to survive.
  5. In a mystery, thinking is paramount. In suspense, feeling is paramount.
  6. The most important action in a mystery takes place offstage. In suspense, the important action happens onstage.
  7. A mystery usually takes place within a small circle of friends. The hero or heroine of a suspense novel often finds him or herself thrust into a larger world.
  8. Readers of mysteries are looking for clues. Readers of suspense are expecting surprises.
  9. In a mystery, information is withheld. In suspense novels, information is provided.
  10. The ideal reader of mysteries remains one step behind the hero or heroine. Those who read suspense should be one step ahead of the hero or heroine.
  11. Mystery readers expect a series. Those who read suspense know a book can be a one shot.
  12. A mystery asks: who done it? In suspense the question is: What’s going to happen?
  13. The hero or heroine in a mystery is looking for suspects. The hero or heroine in suspense looks for betrayers.
  14. A mystery hero or heroine must confront a series of red herrings. The suspense novel hero or heroine faces a cycle of distrust.
  15. Mystery endings must be intellectually satisfying. Suspense endings must provide emotional satisfaction.
  16. Mysteries are usually three hundred manuscript pages. Suspense novels can be longer.


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