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Thread: Since we're talking definitions here...

  1. #1
    Super duper user limitedtimeauthor's Avatar
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    Since we're talking definitions here...

    Mod Note: Please see post #13 for links!

    I've been reading with interest all the different threads about the differences between thrillers/horror/mysteries. This would be a great place for a sticky!

    But if and when it is a sticky, could someone please include the definition of suspense (as a genre), too? I'm still a little vague on that. Thrillers include a lot of fast action, big catastrophes, etc. So, would suspense be a slower-paced book that builds a sense of uneasiness and wondering what is going to happen?

    And question #2 - since I'm asking questions - do thriller/suspense novels all have to be dark and heavy, like Tess Gerritson's books? Or could you call something like True Lies (the movie) a thriller?

    I'd really like to understand this. Thanks!
    Last edited by heyjude; 10-28-2013 at 05:27 PM. Reason: I never was able to count...

  2. #2
    On a wing and a prayer aruna's Avatar
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    I've asked myself this question myself, limitedtimewriter. I have defined my own finished noevl as "suspense", and it does seem to fit there. It starts with a promise of terrible things to come, and in face the premise is based on a horrifying historical event. But there is really nothing terribly thrilling or edge-of-your-seat in the first half of the book. I once started a thread called "How thrilling is thrilling" or something like that, as I was worried about this first half.
    Yet though nothing terrible is happening yet, I do throw in a lot of scary things and I try to build the tension. And there is ONE dead body!
    But my protagonist is female, and the strpy is character-driven, and when Linda posted her definition of suspense I saw that it fitted perfectly.

    I would go one step further and call it mainstream suspense. But I did agonize for a long time about its genre.

    Here's what Linda says:
    http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/...5&postcount=44
    Last edited by aruna; 10-31-2006 at 01:41 PM.

  3. #3
    Soldier, Storyteller Linda Adams's Avatar
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    One of the best things to do is identify the suspenses and read lots of them. Some basic comparisons:

    Suspense always deals with a crime of some kind; thriller doesn't have to.

    Suspense is more emotional; mystery is more intellectual. If a suspense, for example, you'll find a romantic suspense novel. You won't find a romantic mystery because the stories about putting the pieces of the puzzle together, not two characters getting together.

    Suspenses are lesss violent than thrillers. I read some serial killer novels in thriller, and they were extremely violent and gory; in suspense, it was considerably less.

    Suspense can have a paranormal; neither mystery nor thriller will. I don't know why this is the case though.

    Romantic Times Book Review Magazine is a great magazine for identifying books that are suspenses. They've also had a number of articles in the past on the genre.

    As to your question about thrillers and suspenses being dark, no they all don't. A lot depends on the individual writer and even the subgenre. Most suspenses seem to have a much lighter hand than thrillers.
    Last edited by Linda Adams; 10-31-2006 at 03:53 PM.
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    Super duper user limitedtimeauthor's Avatar
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    I don't know what I'm writing (or rather, what I'm about to, starting at midnight tonight for NaNo). The best comparison I have is the movie True Lies, because it's silly and yet there's a roller coaster ride, high stakes, a love story, etc.

    I don't know of any books that are like this though. The closest thing I've found are the Stephanie Plum books (mystery+humor), and recently I was told about Stephanie Bond's books, which she bills as humorous romantic suspense. But neither of these have "save the world" elements, so they truly seem to fit in mystery and suspense.

    Really the only reason I'm even bothering to find out is that the genre often determines length and I guess there might be a number of other conventions particular to each genre.

    Oh, and the other reason I want to know: I would really love to read books like True Lies, Independence Day, etc. They have the big "save the world" plots, funny, quirky characters that crack me up, and yet I really do find myself on the edge of my seat for parts of it, no matter how unbelievable or unrealistic they get!

    I loved Tom Clancy's Executive Order way more than some of the other books, because there was a lot more emphasis on a central character. I wasn't too into the "techno" part of that thriller, but was willing to wade through all those acronyms to see what Jack was going to do next. But not really humorous.

    And the type of book Linda is writing sounds interesting too. Is it similar to Point of No Return (LOVED it with Fonda), La Femme Nikita (Very cool - usually) and Alias? Those would be thrillers? Suspense? Gah! No humor there either, really.

    Anyway, "humorous thriller" just doesn't seem to be a genre in books. That's why I'm so confused, I guess.

    Trying not to be a pain, but gosh - love these boards where you can hash stuff like this out with other writers!!

    ltd.

  5. #5
    practical experience, FTW
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    Quote Originally Posted by limitedtimeauthor
    Anyway, humorous thriller; just doesn't seem to be a genre in books. That's why I'm so confused, I guess.
    I'm thinking of writing one, but the humor tends to kill the suspense. (Silence of The Lambs wouldn't have been very scary if Hannibal and Clarisse sat around telling jokes.) It's also not very realistic. (Arnold never won any Oscars.) IMO, movie goers seem to have a higher tolerance for unrealistic than readers for some reason. But, it can be done.

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    Planet Wookie techno geek greglondon's Avatar
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    humor and fear are diametrically opposed emotions.

    You might have gallows humor, but you won't have "comedy" mixed with "horror". Shawn of the Dead shows what happens when comedy wins over horror in the genre war. And characters might crack jokes when they're nervous and think they're about to die, but I don't think its possible to have both humor and fear fully expressed in the same story.

    True Lies was more of an "action" genre, not "suspense", anyway, wasn't it? A good example of action/comedy would be something like Beverly Hills Cop.
    I don't know. Fly casual.

  7. #7
    Super duper user limitedtimeauthor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by greglondon
    humor and fear are diametrically opposed emotions.

    You might have gallows humor, but you won't have "comedy" mixed with "horror". Shawn of the Dead shows what happens when comedy wins over horror in the genre war.

    ...but I don't think its possible to have both humor and fear fully expressed in the same story....
    I'm not writing horror, of course, but I would assume somebody enjoyed Shawn of the Dead! (Who, I don't know. ) But Janet Evanovich has mixed suspense with humor, and I like it. Hers are not thrillers, since the MC is a bounty hunter, not seeking to save the world but usually trying not to get her car blown up. But there are moments when I'm reading those when I truly am on the edge of my seat, worried for the MC.

    Also, I guess I should clarify what I'm thinking when I refer to humour - I don't really mean like slapstick comedy, but more like the characters' witticisms and outlook on life...Yes. I like Arnold S. type of humor! <Groan.> It can't be helped. I am who I am and I like silly jokes. I just do!

    And I like big, save the world plots. And I don't care if they're unrealistic, if they are at least realistic within the parameters of the story world. So, Arnie, he's one of my favorites. And Will Smith. And Stephanie Plum. And Bruce Willis in the old Die Hard days. Oh, and the whole Incredibles family.

    I'm not proud. I'll admit it. I have the sense of humor of a seven-year old boy.

    Anyway...thanks for the input everybody!

    ltd.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Linda Adams
    You won't find a romantic mystery because the stories about putting the pieces of the puzzle together, not two characters getting together.
    I think that, handled well, a romance mystery could work. Maybe not a locked room puzzle and a torrid bodice ripper (that could be a challenge), but a romance mixed with a cozy could be fun. And a traditional whodunnit would make a fine base for a romance (using the term as in genre, not just a romance angle).

    Now, whether or not you could sell it as a "mystery", that I don't know.

    Quote Originally Posted by greglondon
    And characters might crack jokes when they're nervous and think they're about to die, but I don't think its possible to have both humor and fear fully expressed in the same story.
    Check out Paula Gosling, especially the Stryker stuff. Humor and fear can work nicely together, if the author is good enough.
    Last edited by soloset; 10-31-2006 at 11:15 PM. Reason: clarification of term
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  9. #9
    Soldier, Storyteller Linda Adams's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by limitedtimeauthor
    Oh, and the other reason I want to know: I would really love to read books like True Lies, Independence Day, etc. They have the big "save the world" plots, funny, quirky characters that crack me up, and yet I really do find myself on the edge of my seat for parts of it, no matter how unbelievable or unrealistic they get!
    ltd.
    There's not a lot of authors writing at that level of "save the world" (it's actually hard to come up with stories) but here's a list:

    Clive Cussler
    James Rollins
    Lincoln Child and Douglas Preston
    David Gibbins

    Quote Originally Posted by limitedtimeauthor
    And the type of book Linda is writing sounds interesting too. Is it similar to Point of No Return (LOVED it with Fonda), La Femme Nikita (Very cool - usually) and Alias? Those would be thrillers? Suspense? Gah! No humor there either, really.

    Anyway, "humorous thriller" just doesn't seem to be a genre in books. That's why I'm so confused, I guess.
    That's because humor is really hard to do. As far as I know, there are no thrillers with humor in them (except maybe beyond an occasional joke). Our humor comes from the relationships between the characters, as well as the character development. It is very woman-oriented humor--one of the men from out critique group called it "fae humor" and told us to get rid of it because "no one likes it" (his words). Which, of course, convinced us we're on the right track with it.
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  10. #10
    Super duper user limitedtimeauthor's Avatar
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    Sounds good, Linda!

    ltd.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by limitedtimeauthor
    I've been reading with interest all the different threads about the differences between thrillers/horror/mysteries. This would be a great place for a sticky!

    But if and when it is a sticky, could someone please include the definition of suspense (as a genre), too? I'm still a little vague on that. Thrillers include a lot of fast action, big catastrophes, etc. So, would suspense be a slower-paced book that builds a sense of uneasiness and wondering what is going to happen?

    And question #2 - since I'm asking questions - do thriller/suspense novels all have to be dark and heavy, like Tess Gerritson's books? Or could you call something like True Lies (the movie) a thriller?

    I'd really like to understand this. Thanks!
    I remember hearing someone, a director, I think, give his view on the difference between thriller and suspense.

    There's a monster in the closet. In a suspense novel or movie, the reader/viewer knows the monster is there. The character in the scene approaches the closet, starts to open it, but the doorbell rings. She answers the door, takes a package from the mailman, sits it on the table next to the door, and again approaches the closet. As her hand reaches for the doorknob, the phone rings. Suspense builds. Is she going to open the closet and get eaten, or is she not?

    In a thriller, the viewer doesn't know the monster is in the closet. The scene is peaceful, the character seems happy. She opens the closet, the monster grabs her, and the readers/viewers jump about a foot because they were not expecting that. She may fight the monster off, if she's the protagonist, but it's the thrill of the unexpected that makes the scenewhat it is.

    So suspense in when the reader/viewer knows something the character doesn't, and the tension builds by wondering how or if the character will survive. Will he or won't he fall into the trap, get shot by the sniper we all know has the crosshairs lined up on his head, or be eaten by the monster we know is waiting in the closet. Our hearts beat faster as the tension builds.

    In a thriller, we usually don't see the threat coming. It's slam-bang action, and we ride along with the protagonist, experiencing things as they happen to him, and we're just as surprised as he is when the monster jumps out of the closet.

    In truth, most good thrillers have some suspense in them, and most good suspense stories have some thrills in them, but it's all in the focus.

  12. #12
    Super duper user limitedtimeauthor's Avatar
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    Well, that's neat. I was getting all antsy reading about the person who kept getting packages and phone calls myself. "Get to the darn closet, Lady!" So that makes it easy to understand suspense.

    Thanks for the input, James.

    ltd.

  13. #13
    On a wing and a prayer aruna's Avatar
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    James, that's a perfect description of how (I think) my novel works. Great analogy. And yes, it's 100% suspense.

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    Making my own sunshine AW Moderator heyjude's Avatar
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    The Difference Between Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense

    A much-loved topic.

    Links below

    This is the place to discuss, debate, and link to pertinent articles.

    I found an interesting one on the difference between mystery and suspense. Of course, there's always Nathan Bransford's informative blog post on the subject, including the spot-on advice: "These labels slosh around a whole lot, so again, don't sweat them too much." A similar post from BookEnds.

    There is some good advice differentiating thrillers and suspense in the comments section of this Miss Snark post. Follow the links to this page, scroll a third of the way down (or whatever, I'm no math major) to Lit Tip: Thriller or Suspense?

    It says, in part, "You know you’ve written a suspense novel when: Your protagonist is in terrible personal danger and fighting for his or her life against disproportionately high odds. Suspense novels are breathless page-turners that focus more on a pivotal character, but often include high-stakes elements of thrillers."


    Here's a blog post on cozies, as well. And here on the MTS forum there are discussions on All Things Cozy, What makes a "cozy" mystery, and Cozies *without* recipes...

    I hope these are helpful. Anyone have any other links, thoughts, opinions? Please share!
    Last edited by heyjude; 01-17-2012 at 04:09 PM. Reason: Adding cozy links

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    Making my own sunshine AW Moderator heyjude's Avatar
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    Please bear with me while I figure out how to merge threads without transporting them to an alternate universe.

  16. #16
    This is a very helpful thread!

    My LEAVE ME GASPING is a mystery with romance, but the mystery is the main thing.

    (Lots of overlap with categories!)

  17. #17
    Researching History's Mysteries HistorySleuth's Avatar
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    Since we're talking definitions here...

    Since we're talking definitions here... can you give me one for a "cozy" mystery?

    I'm trying not to think to much at the moment on sub categories, but I've seen this one used and not finding a clear definition. In my WIP, four are already dead, have been for many years. Three are found in chapter one, and they are the remains of children. Later another body is found, an adult. Then I'm killing off another character during the story, but it's a pretty clean kill. Insulin.

    Most mysteries have stiffs so it can't be that right? Is it the lack of violence that makes it a cozy???
    Last edited by HistorySleuth; 01-19-2010 at 11:51 PM. Reason: Spelled a word wrong. Silly me!
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    Making my own sunshine AW Moderator heyjude's Avatar
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    History, here's a thread that addressed this question. I'll do some additional digging...

  19. #19
    practical experience, FTW jeseymour's Avatar
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    Cozies have all violence occur off screen. They generally have a "tight" setting (can't think of another word for this) meaning that they often take place in a small town or even in a household. Not a lot of suspects. Small world. They often involve knitting or food or cats.
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  20. #20
    Researching History's Mysteries HistorySleuth's Avatar
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    Thank you all. I checked out that thread, and cozy-mystery.com
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  21. #21
    Making my own sunshine AW Moderator heyjude's Avatar
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    An interesting blog post on the differences, and some excellent advice at the end:


    "When in doubt, don't call your book anything or say it's a novel of suspense. Because whether it's a mystery or thriller, cozy or hard-boiled, there better be some suspense."

  22. #22
    Super Browser triceretops's Avatar
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    I have a straight espionage thriller with some romantics elements--a love story that turns into betrayal. Does anyone have any links or site Urls where I can find thriller/suspense publishers? I don't seem to be hitting the right markets in my search.

    Much appreciated,

    Tri

  23. #23
    Without Shame gan_naire's Avatar
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    I have always been horrible when it came to putting my ideas into a genre, since they all deal with suspense/thriller. After reading, let me see if I'm right. Suspense includes any form of action, like robbing a bank, running from the police, shooting someone, fighting, etc.

    Thriller has suspense in it in the sense that action is happening, only now, it's a hell of a lot more bloody and gory.

    Am I close yet? So a serial killer fiction can be suspense if it doesn't have far too graphic scenes? This is basically the picture I have of which is which.

    Suspense - Bloody and not as often, for example shooting someone then running away
    Thriller - Gory and somewhat often to all the time, for example stabbin someone in the neck, twisting the blade and then standing over them to watch them bleed out
    Conformity leads to death of not only the human spirit, but to imagination.

  24. #24
    Super Browser triceretops's Avatar
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    Hmm...perhaps I'm suspense and didn't know it. Mine is not bloody at all and has a huge chase in it on foot and horseback. By dingies, I think I might be suspense afterall.

    Tri

  25. #25
    Without Shame gan_naire's Avatar
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    I have always been confused about which is which. The ideas I have for books all have a general interst which is violence. Some of my ideas would be considered a childrens book when compared to other ideas of mine. So I've been sure that they all fall into the suspense or thriller genre, I've just been confused on which is which.
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