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What do you think? > What is the difference between mystery and suspense?

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message 1: by Karen (new)

Karen Mysteries to me are steady movement , sometimes funny and have more off subject stuff like romance. Sometimes the books are both things. It think most suspense books are mystery also. But I do not know if mysteries are always suspense. I am sure someone has a better definition. this is just off my head.


message 2: by Barb (new)

Barb | 951 comments I found this on askville.amazon.com:

I've heard it said that in a mystery the reader learns the clue/situation at the same moment the book character does; but in suspense the reader sees what's going to happen and the character doesn't realize it yet, so the reader is shouting, "No, no! Don't open that door!"

I'm not so sure about that, as I've often yelled at characters in mysteries too LOL I think suspense books tend to be more psychological, while mysteries are more ... physical?


message 3: by Karen (new)

Karen Barb wrote: "I found this on askville.amazon.com:

I've heard it said that in a mystery the reader learns the clue/situation at the same moment the book character does; but in suspense the reader sees what's go..."


Now this is a great take on it. I think you nailed it here.


message 4: by Leslie (new)

Leslie To me, mysteries involve investigations into something - one or more of the characters is attempting to find out "whodunit". Unlike Karen, I prefer mysteries that do not have a lot of off subject stuff, although you can't always tell if it is well-written what is actually off subject. There is not necessarily any feeling of danger or menace- think of Hercule Poirot (rarely in danger).

Suspense must have some menace or danger, but does not require the investigation part. For example, a book in which the killer is known but not yet captured could be quite suspenseful but wouldn't be a mystery.


message 5: by Karen (new)

Karen Leslie wrote: "To me, mysteries involve investigations into something - one or more of the characters is attempting to find out "whodunit". Unlike Karen, I prefer mysteries that do not have a lot of off subject ..."

Another great definition.


message 6: by Natalia (new)

Natalia (bookreadingmachine) | 13 comments I never actually considered that there was a difference between the two genres until you pointed it out in this thread. To me they have always been the same. I can agree that a lot of mysteries have off-topic stuff, but then again there are books that are in the romantic suspense genre so I'm not sure.


message 7: by Natalia (new)

Natalia (bookreadingmachine) | 13 comments I like these definitions though. They are giving me a new perspective!


message 8: by Heather L , Cozy Mysteries Moderator (new)

Heather L  (wordtrix) | 17682 comments Mod
I actually wrote an article on this subject about ten years ago. I posted about it here previously, but as I have no idea in which discussion that was, I'll link to it again (it's probably a bit long to post in its entirety). I wrote it after attending a writing workshop with writer Barbara D’Amato.


. . . . . . . . . . . .


Which is it? Mystery, Thriller or Suspense?

Many writers use the terms mystery, suspense and thriller interchangeably, as if one was no different from the other, but such is not true. As similar as they can be, there are differences between the three genres, and what type of book you have will also help determine how it is marketed—first to agents, then to publishers and booksellers, and ultimately to readers. Knowing what type of book you have can also aid you in the plotting and, ultimately, the writing.

So what differentiates a mystery from a suspense or a thriller?

The easy answer here would be that, in a mystery you usually don't know whodunit (or why) until the very end; in a suspense you can know whodunit (and even why)—what makes it a suspense is not knowing how or if the villain will be caught or stopped in time; and a thriller is high on action.

There is much more to it than that, of course, and the differences can be broken down into four key components: number of characters, settings, plot, and source of reader satisfaction.

Read rest of the article


message 9: by Heather L , Cozy Mysteries Moderator (new)

Heather L  (wordtrix) | 17682 comments Mod
Thanks, Ken! : )


message 10: by Tina (new)

Tina (tinacz) | 236 comments Mystery to me is protag working way through dark passageways, secret paneled clues to who, what, where, when, why. Suspense is hanging by fingers off building, cliff, bridge. Will the protag be rescued? Bomb ticking down to seconds. Will or will it not go off??


message 11: by Leslie (new)

Leslie Ashton wrote: "I think suspense encompasses mysteries. Thrillers are also suspense, but there are also suspense books that are neither mysteries or thrillers ..."

I think that there are mysteries without suspense - maybe not a lot but some. So I disagree with the term "encompasses"... However, I do agree that there are suspense books that are not mysteries or thrillers. I also think that there can be suspense & thriller books which are not crime novels.


message 12: by Elaine (new)

Elaine Lintzenich | 74 comments NYKen wrote: "What is the difference between mystery and suspense?

To me the primary difference is that mysteries make you think, and suspense makes you sweat.

Feel free to add your comments, details, on your ..."

I don't know about sweating exactly, but suspense does make you anxious. Your main character could be waiting for a diagnosis from his/her doctor, be dealing with an aging parent and be unsure about the outcome. So I think suspense engages the emotions. Good mysteries have this element of suspense and great ones kick it up a couple of notches.


message 13: by Elaine (new)

Elaine Lintzenich | 74 comments Karen wrote: "Barb wrote: "I found this on askville.amazon.com:

I've heard it said that in a mystery the reader learns the clue/situation at the same moment the book character does; but in suspense the reader s..."


I think this is a good way to explain suspense.


message 14: by JoAnne (new)

JoAnne McMaster (Any Good Book) | 55 comments Reference it to movies: Most Alfred Hitchcock movies are suspense (think Shadow of a Doubt and Rear Window), while Agatha Christie (Poirot and Miss Marple) are mystery. In books, mystery is for the mind, and suspense is for the emotions. Books and movies work the same way.


message 15: by Robin (new)

Robin (goodreadscomtriviagoddessl) | 630 comments I think they are both one and the same but on a different level. Mysteries are usually whodunits, and this is usually good storytelling on the authors behalf. Suspense means to me that it keeps you spell bound and on your seat until the very end. Like the earlier poster, but to an extent Gaslight is considered suspenseful and a mystery.


message 16: by ஐ Briansgirl (Book Queen)ஐ, Cozy Mysteries Group Owner (new)

ஐ Briansgirl (Book Queen)ஐ (briansgirlkate) | 1576 comments Mod
Barb wrote: "I found this on askville.amazon.com:

I've heard it said that in a mystery the reader learns the clue/situation at the same moment the book character does; but in suspense the reader sees what's go..."


I'd agree with this 100%. I'm sure there are other differences, but this sums it up nicely.


message 17: by Elaine (new)

Elaine Lintzenich | 74 comments NYKen wrote: "I've been thinking about this for quite some time before I posted here. How about this. In a good novel, mystery and suspense are married together. However, mystery is more a sense of links or clue..."

I think NYKen's comment is very insightful; totally agree.


message 18: by Robin (new)

Robin (goodreadscomtriviagoddessl) | 630 comments I agree with NY Ken's definition, very astute.


Victoria_Grossack Grossack (victoriagrossack) | 107 comments Interesting discussion!


message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

Robin wrote: "I agree with NY Ken's definition, very astute."

Thanks for the agreement Robin. There is a book I was reading recently and I came another interesting difference between the two. I'll loop for the part in the book and post it here some time this week.


message 21: by Melinda (new)

Melinda O'Neill | 27 comments NYKen wrote: "I've been thinking about this for quite some time before I posted here. How about this. In a good novel, mystery and suspense are married together. However, mystery is more a sense of links or clue..."

I agree with this too. Solving vs Surviving.


message 22: by Mary Ellen (last edited Dec 01, 2013 09:36PM) (new)

Mary Ellen (raven51) | 12 comments I love this clip of Alfred Hitchcock where he's explaining his views on mystery and suspense.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Xs111...
Even though he's focusing on film I think it also applies to books as well.


message 23: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 22, 2014 07:51AM) (new)

Melinda wrote: "I agree with this too. Solving vs Surviving."

That's a great way of putting it as well.


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