View Full Version : True definition of thriller and suspense in a genre.

10-30-2006, 07:34 AM
So, I'm working on my novel and in the back of my brain my little internal editor pops up and says, "So if you were going to present this to an agent one day, would you call it a thriller or an action/adventure?" To me, my novel is more action/adventure than thriller - however, I've heard that action/adventure may not really be accepted as it's own genre and that a book could better be placed in either mystery or thriller.

The basic premise of my plot... an Amazon tour guide is hired to lead a small team into the jungle to discover what happened to a group of scientists. The tour guide is hired by an insitute that works for the conservation of jungle wildlife and has some breeding programs on protected creatures. I hope the story is thrilling... but it follows their adventure in the jungle. Yes, I'm excluding quite a bit because I don't want to go on and on about my plot. I just wanted to give you an idea of the premise and see where you would identify it...

This is a man vs environment/animal/flora, etc. The protagonist is the tour guide. The antagonist is the director of the institute. 3 quarters of the book will take place in the jungle.

So: how would you rank it? Myster? Thriller? Suspense? Action/Adventure?

10-30-2006, 09:08 AM
I think of a thriller as a rollercoaster ride. You get on for the thrill, the fear and the excitement it creates. A thriller is action that inspires excitement and fear. But a roller coaster ride isn't exactly right, because a thriller isn't about the action, so much as the implications of what's happening. I think of "North by Northwest" when I think of classic thriller. Some action, like being chased by a cropduster, but a lot of tension comes from a telephone ringing, or conversations in a room, or other non-action events.

Indiana Jones Spoiler alert: An action adventure is less about fear and thrills and more about doing something, or doing lots of things, to get somewhere, all of which are interesting, but not neccesarily fearful. Think of all the things Indiana Jones had to do. Some of it was thrilling, but some of it was stuff like going to some bar in Nepal to find a clue. If you look at the entire Indiana Jones Raiders of the Lost Ark movie, Indiana spends the entire movie doing a lot of stuff, none of which has any impact on the Nazis. The Nazis do what they want to do with the Ark. And Indiana investigates and follows and tries to thwart, but never really does impede them in any significant way. The only thing that stops the Nazis is when they open the Ark at the end. And Indie has nothing to do with what happens at that point. But the movie is really just about watching Indiana do what he does. It isn't all thrilling, but its all interesting in some way, trying to figure out what he's doing, who these people are, what their history is, etc. All of which is revealed by Indiana's actions.

Mystery is the who-dunnit. The what-happened. The forensic science. Something happened, and the story revolves around figuring out what exactly happened. THis could involve no action whatsoever. The story could start with a locked room full of people, one of whom is dead. And the story would revolve around figuring who these people are, what their motivations were, where they were and whom they were with, and eventually figureing out who did it. All of which could be accomplished without a single car chase or gun fight.

If the journey through the jungle is surreal and interspersed wtih carnage along the lines of Apocalypse Now, then you might even have a Horror story.

The plot you've described could be a thriller, an action adventure, or a mystery, and it would all depend on the focus of your writing. Based on your plotline, if it looks and feels like Jurassic Park, it's action adventure. it's all about the trials and tribulations of the jungle, going from one challenge to another to get to where you're going, and eventualy ferret out the solution.

If the folks going through the jungle are not being chased from one location to another, but are presented with one mystery after another, which they discover, ponder, and move on, until they've figured out the solution, then you've got a mystery story.

If the folks are going through the jungle are facing more and more dire implications as they go along, and it isn't about who dunnit, but about surviving the jungle and fixing the problem, and it isn't all high speed chases and gun battles with things in the jungle, then it might be a thriller.

And if there's a mutant creature created by some crazy breeding program that's living in the jungle and killing off the team one by one, then you've got a horror.

10-30-2006, 08:16 PM
Excellent answer! I really enjoyed reading your response and I think you provided some great examples and ways to look at the genres a little differently.

Thank you!

Linda Adams
10-31-2006, 05:39 AM
Here's some more information on thriller: http://www.hackman-adams.com/articles/index.htm

Plus, if you search the archives for the definition of thriller, it's been discussed several times. I think Good Word was going to post a sticky for one of them.

By the way, your story sounds similar to what James Rollins is writing.

10-31-2006, 07:52 AM
Uhoh... what's James Rollins writing now? Dangit... that's all I need is him to come out with a story along my lines and then I'm screwed :)

Linda Adams
11-01-2006, 03:47 AM
It's called Amazonia.