Friday, July 17, 2015

Mystery, Suspense, or Romance

Although I write romantic suspense, I'm not happy with the moniker the industry gave to the genre. According to the publishing industry, romantic suspense includes all romance-themed mystery sub-genres, from cozy to thriller. There's the added hero/heroine story arc, with its requisite Happily Ever After. However, by tacking that 'suspense' term onto the genre, readers might be expecting an actual suspense, not a mystery, and be disappointed.

Mystery isn't the same as suspense. I happen to think I write romantic mysteries, or, as I prefer to call them, "Mysteries with Relationships."

According to the dictionary, suspense is a state of uncertainty, enjoyable tension, or anxiety. A mystery is something you cannot explain, or don't know anything about. It's easy to see how the two overlap.

Often the major difference in writing a mystery as opposed to a suspense will boil down to Point of View. If there's a villain's POV, then the reader knows what's happened. Suspense. Think Alfred Hitchcock. Do you know the bad guys are waiting in the heroine's apartment. That's suspense.

If there's only the detective's POV (and I'm being simplistic, because often there are multiple POV characters in a mystery, but they're not the villain), then the reader doesn't know what happened. Mystery. Think Sherlock Holmes. Does the heroine show up at her apartment and think something is "off?" That's mystery.

When I started writing my first book, I thought I was writing a mystery. Heck, I'd never even read a romance. But when my daughters, who were reading the manuscript said it was a romance, I figured I ought to read a few. Hundred.

And as I read, I fell in love with the "romantic suspense" genre, although I still think there's room in there for Mysteries With Relationships.

Finding Sarah starts off as a mystery. Sarah's shop has been robbed and she calls the police. The detective, Randy, tries to solve it. However, later in the book, Randy and Sarah are separated, and Sarah is in danger. Now, the reader will see things through Sarah's eyes that Randy doesn't know, and things through Randy's eyes that Sarah doesn't know. This creates suspense, even though the book wasn't intended as a strictly suspense novel.

In Hidden Fire, the same two characters are part of a more classic mystery. There's been a murder, and Randy must figure out who did it. The reader never sees the killer, so it wouldn't be classified as a suspense, although there's plenty of danger for the reader to worry about.

In Danger in Deer Ridge, because the villain was obvious, I included his POV, and that added elements of suspense to the story. But, in my mind, it's still more of a mystery.

If I'd been responsible for labeling romance books that include mystery sub-genres, I'd probably have included a "mystery romance" moniker. But nobody asked me (they never do), so we've got romantic suspense novels that might not have any classic suspense in them. Are they still good books? Of course.

What's your take? Do you like seeing what the bad guys are up to (suspense?) Or do you prefer to follow the protagonists and solve the puzzle with them (mystery)?

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She's the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

11 comments :

  1. When I see the term "romantic suspense," I automatically think of women in danger storylines ala Mary Higgins Clark. The heroine is targeted by the villain and the relationship is the side dish. I agree that Mystery with a side dish of romance is a different animal. The sleuth has romantic entanglements along the way while solving the mystery. I enjoy them both. I've also read books where the central focus is romance and there is very little sleuthing. Those, I'm not so fond of. As I say so often, it is all in the promise you make to the reader in the back blurb, synopsis, even cover. Make sure you're clear which type of book they are taking home. Otherwise, you are in for some bad reviews. A reader burned is likely to fire back.

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    1. I do try to make it clear what my books are, but when faced with the required pigeonholes, the only thing out there is 'romantic suspense' and one hopes readers will understand that umbrella encompasses a LOT of possible reads.

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  2. Wow, Terry ... seems like a pretty thin line ... kinda like the action/adventure vs thriller ... who knows, eh? I think you came up with a new genre: mystery with relationships ... most folks could sure identify with that.

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    1. I like to think so, Chris, but although the lines a blurring, there are still those 'first impressions' you're stuck with when the "mystery with relationship" genre exists only on my website.

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  3. I also get confused about genre classifications. I am working on my first novel. It is a story about my MC, who feels compelled to solve her parents' murders from when she was a child of 7, and she was traumatized from it and can't remember details. Then, she goes to an old mansion that was a former parlor house. The ghost of the madam needs her help to solve an even colder case murder--the madam's, from 1871. So, is this paranormal mystery, or historical mystery, or what? I know most ghost stories are classified as either paranormal or horror. This ghost is not scary, so I think horror is out. I think of paranormal more as vampires, werewolves, etc. What would you suggest? She may or may not have a love interest. I'm not sure yet. I'm still in the planning stage. I've been stuck here for a while, but that's another topic. :)

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    1. Like 'romantic suspense', which encompasses everything from cozy to thriller as long as there's a romance element, paranormal seems to be the same oversized umbrella. You'll have to let your description, sub genres and key words help readers find the book.

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  4. I love your "mystery with relationships" category and I will put it on my website to describe my mysteries. Then two of us will have the category, and maybe it will catch on. LOL

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    1. Why does your comment remind me of Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant"? :-)

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  5. I like both mystery and suspense -- just don't care for excessive blood and gore. I like romance, but not explicit sex. Mystery with relationships? Now that's intriguing. :-)

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    1. Excessive anything is too much regardless of genre, I think.

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  6. My upcoming blog is about cross genre fiction. I think suspense, which I write, still has elements of mystery, as does a thriller. I've never paid much attention to genre classifications. I like crime fiction as an umbrella solution, but that's just me. And I always have romance in my mystery, suspense, thrillers. :-)

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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