View Full Version : thriller vs. mystery

tommy gun
10-17-2006, 10:10 AM
In a thriller, is it important to have characters that the author makes the reader think is bad, but in the end, you find out that they were not behind the evil.

For example, in Angels and Demons, by Dan Brown, the director of the research lab was thought to be behind the murders until the very end.

I think what im looking for, is there a difference between mystery and thriller? And do thrillers still have mystery to who's the bad guy, or is it mainly the chase, uncovering the truth, and resolving the crisis that are the main ingredients to thrillers?

Linda Adams
10-17-2006, 02:41 PM
Mystery is often associated with thriller, but there are actually some huge differences. I have to book out of here in a few minutes, so here's a link to article about what a thriller is:


And some additional articles on thrillers:


The basic issue is that if you're writing a thriller and think it's a mystery, you'll keep seeing evidence as you read mysteries and how to books, that's it's not quite a mystery. I remember being very frustrated reading through how to books on mystery, and my book never fit in with any of the advice. A crime in a book doesn't instantly qualify it as a mystery. Unfortunately, thriller has never been officially defined, and most of the definitions I do see are based on comparing it with mystery--where the books are more ambiguous (and only one small piece of the genre).

Doug Johnson
10-17-2006, 04:34 PM
You can't find a better source than Linda, but I heard mysteries defined as "who done it" and thrillers as "how done it." Twists and surprises are important. Characters who aren't what they initially seem are way one to surprise readers.

Anthony Ravenscroft
10-18-2006, 03:26 AM
Okay, then there's suspense...

tommy gun
10-18-2006, 08:17 AM
Linda, thanks. Those are some excellent sites with essays from thriller writers.

And i think the other guy was right when he said suspense is important.

In those articles, people describe many methods to unveil the story to the reader, and possibilities to reach the climax. Thats just the source of inspiration I need.

They are interesting in their discussion of writing to genre, and knowing the strengths and difficulties of certain techniques.

Linda Adams
10-18-2006, 02:19 PM
Suspense is third genre mixed in with thriller and mystery. Now you know why everyone is confused!

Doug Johnson
10-18-2006, 04:21 PM
Thats just the source of inspiration I need.

If you haven't read it already, you might want to read The Firm. No one does it better.

tommy gun
10-19-2006, 05:42 AM
Yeah, im only 24, but The Firm was actually the first novel I read as a young adult. I have ready tons of books. And although I like the moral introspection of an individual, a community, or an era, the books that do me well are the ones where the story is about an injustice, social movement, wall street, or a scifi possibility in which the ending is a conclusion that is one step farther that it could have been if it were a lesser of a book.

The sixth sense, memento, seven, fight club, training day. They are all tense, mysterious, full of suspense, and thrillers. And the ending was the reason why any of these stories were told, and what satisfies the soul.

Im a sucker for learning about history or science, law or religion as part of the plot. Killer Angels was great Civil war story, Jurassic Park was imaginative to the 3rd degree, the Rainmaker was quite an entertaining window into the green lawyer, and everything about the Illuminati in Angels and Demons.

And in the end, i dont see any of these stories as fitting into a category of genre. Like, is Jurassic Park a fantasy? or sci fi? and is killer angels an epic drama? or a historical piece? the Rainmaker has got to be a legal thiller, but probably more like an Erin Brokavich good guys against the bad guys legal fight, and Angels and Demons had too much mystery and suspense to only be a thriller.

Linda Adams
10-19-2006, 05:56 AM
Killer Angels, I believe, is a historical novel. Jurassic Park, The Rainmaker, The Firm, and Angels and Demons are all thrillers. The genre is extremely diverse, and this also contributes to why there's so much confusion about it. One of the key pieces of thriller is as you said, "learning about history or science, law or religion as part of the plot." Whatever that element is drives the story--i.e., technology drives the story, politics drives the story.