Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Murder Mystery vs. Suspense

I've been reading "How To Writer Killer Fiction" by Carolyn Wheat who was a long time mystery writer. I have really enjoyed the book. It is chock full of great tips for the myster/suspense writer. I wanted to share a little from her book about a few differences in the classis whodunit vs. the suspense book. She likens the books as being in a dream.

The Mystery:
     At the opposite end of the popular crime fiction genre is the whodunit. Here the nightmare of sudden, violent death is tamed, put into a neat, logical package of detection and clues, rendered less frightening by the impostition of order. The detective hero, unlike the suspense hero, is the master of the situation, keeping her head when all about her are losing theirs. The detective manages the out-of-control emotions of othersand brings logic and insight to bear on the puzzle of unexplained passions. Here the experience is one of taking control while the dream is going on, of telling oneself: I can handle this; it's only a dream.
     In the whodunit, the reader indentifies with someone outside the troubled circle where the crime takes place; whether the sleuth is a cop, a private eye, or an amateur, the classic mystery is a story of other people's troubles. In recent years, detective characters have begun solving thier own personal problems in the course of the mystery, but the core of the genre is a situation involving murder that happens to other people. In the ideal mystery novel, the reader is two steps behind the detective.


The Suspense:
     In a straight suspense novel, the hero is the center of the book. The troubles are his, not someone else's. The reader indentifies with the hero and goes through a catharsis by following the hero's journey every step of the way. At the end of the story, the hero, as in a fairy tale, emerges at a different level of maturity.
     In suspense, the emotions are up-front and dominant. The big scenes are played out in front of the reader; we see the good and evil clash before our eyes. The hero is pursued, captured, tortured in real time, while a time bomb ticks in the background. We expect to see the hero working her way free from the ropes that bind her; we will be extememly disappointed to come on the scene after she's freed herself. The ideal suspense reader, is two steps ahead of the hero.

Deborah has worked as a freelance writer and photographer, since 2001, for the historical magazine “Georgia Backroads.” She has had many articles and photographs published during this time. Her writing is featured in “Tales of the Rails” edited by Olin Jackson. She has also had a showing of her photographs at Floyd Medical Center Art Gallery as well as winning several awards. Her debut cozy mystery "Death in Dahlonega", a winner in the ACFW Category Five Writer's Contest, is now available.
She is a current member of the Georgia Writers Association, and a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. Deborah has been nomiated for Georgia Author of the Year 2012. She has an established blog, Butterfly Journey, where she reviews Christian Fiction. You can also catch her at
Sleuths and Suspects, where she reviews mysteries. She also contributes to the Cozy Mystery Magazine every other Tuesday.


1 comment:

  1. Knowing these distinctions can be very helpful for new writers! Thank you for posting this. : ) I went for "mystery" with the Mitzy series, but I think there is a little crossover making them something like cozy-suspensteries. ; )


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.