Search:
 
 

Suspense Or Mystery 101

When I began to write romantic suspense, I tossed out several reams of paper. Why?  Because no matter how I tried I couldn’t keep my villain hidden. He kept voicing his POV and writing his own chapters. I nearly ripped my hair out by the roots fighting with him to stay silent. Then I read a wonderful book, How To Write Killer Fiction by Carolyn Wheat.  Ms.Wheat set me straight and confirmed what my villain was telling me all along.

Is there a Who-dun-it in suspense? Of course there is. When the villain is revealed, among a few other elements, that makes suspense different from mystery. In a mystery, an act of violence begins the story, but most times the action is set off stage. The reader is invited into the dilemma and introduced to an already seasoned hero who solves the crime logically and through scientific methods. There is a small circle of suspects, clues and red herrings. Information is withheld from the reader and the said reader is kept in the dark two steps behind. The hero grows very little during the story. The story is all about who killed X? The villain is not exposed until the last scene and the end result for the reader is an intellectual satisfaction.

A suspense novel starts on even keel, showing the everyday life our hero or heroine. Then BAM, a nightmare occurs.

 

Excerpt from His Witness To Evil:

Stephanie masked her sigh of exertion while lifting the Coleman cooler she’d borrowed for their trip. She lugged the container to her old SUV. She knew how her son felt. She wished she had the money to take them away on exciting excursions like their friends had this summer. To places like Disney World, but she couldn’t even afford a day trip to Hershey Park, America’s chocolate capital. Em’s special diet, because of her allergies, took up a third of her take-home pay. After paying the mortgage, utilities, car insurance and miscellaneous expenses, she was lucky to save a few dollars a week.

She chewed on her bottom lip. Hopefully, next week Bobby and his friends would be off on new adventures, their summer vacations a distant memory.

The howl of a diesel engine jerked Stephanie from her musing. The squeal of brakes, crushing metal and shattering glass made her spin around.

Other basics of a suspense: All action is on stage. The protagonists’ world expansions. There are surprises. The villain can be revealed to the reader immediately and can have a POV.

Yeah! This made my villain happy. Information is given to the reader but withheld from the heroes. In other words, we know what could happen if the wrong path is taken by our hero.  The reader sits on the edge of her seat, screaming at the heroine and hero not to go there.

 

Excerpt from His Witness To Evil:

“I don’t want to kill no kids, Victor.” Mac danced in place ready to dodge Victor’s wrath.

“You will do as I say,” Victor snapped.

She looked at the dead driver. His lifeless stare pleaded to her for justice.

“Don’t trust her,” Sheriff Morse ordered, turning his gun on her.

Stephanie refused to flinch under Morse’s scrutiny.

Gene moved in front of her. “Frank, what the hell are you doing? You’ve known Stephanie all her life.”

“There is too much at stake, Gene. She saw me kill that guy. I’m not going to jail.” Morse’s tongue skimmed his lips. “Why the hell are you trying to protect her anyway? You two have been fightin’ like junkyard dogs for years. You complain every day she’s milking you dry. This is your chance to be rid of your mistakes.”

“Steph was never a mistake to me,” Gene’s voice rose in response. Then it softened. “I was hers.”

Tears threatened to blur her vision and she blinked them away. She squeezed Gene’s arm and glanced at her ex-husband’s profile. He remained focused.

“Touching,” Victor said. “But, sorry, no. They must die here.”

 

The suspense story is all about the hero or heroine prevailing. Emotional satisfaction is what the reader gets from a suspense novel. And since I write romantic suspense, love also must be found.

 

Excerpt from His Witness to Evil:

After a week, her touch was familiar. His heart melted. He grabbed her hand, holding her in place as he turned and smiled down on her. Her nipples pushed against her white T-shirt. He gently brushed a knuckle across one peak. “No. It was hell without you.”

“Mmmm. Same here.” She pulled back and lifted his arm around her, curling into him.  Looking out over the lake, she sighed. “I could stay here forever, if you’d let me.”

“I wish we could.” He gathered her closer and kissed the top of her head. “But eventually Bobby and Em would have to go to school.”

“I could home school.” Her chuckle was strained.

He felt her pain. He smiled while his heart wrenched. He would like nothing more than to forget about the world and stay here with her and the kids. But they couldn’t. “Sooner or later Ben will call. We’ll have to go back.”

“I know.”

Steph moved away. A cold void took her place.

She drifted to the other porch column. Leaning against it, she folded her arms across her chest. Her lips pressed together as if she was forming the right words behind them. “I know I said that our time together here was going to be enough to last me a lifetime, but—” Tears brimmed her lids. “I was wrong.  A lifetime won’t be enough.”

 

John stepped toward her. “I don’t know what—”

“I know, you don’t know how we can be together. So, Ben will call. We’ll go back, and I’ll identify Victor. You’ll toss him in jail and throw away the key. You’ll drive off in pursuit of the next bad guy and me…Well, I’ll go home and wonder where you are. Wonder if what I felt was love.”

The woman knew how to make a guy feel like a heel.

John pulled her into his arms. She buried her head in his chest and cried softly against him. He kissed her head and smoothed her hair. “Steph, I didn’t think I’d ever love again,” he whispered softly, cupping her chin and tilting her face up until she looked at him. “Like a bomb, you dropped into my life. Every defense I’d put up to protect myself from ever being hurt again came tumbling down. You opened up my heart. As much as you don’t want to live without me, I don’t want to live without you. I love you.”

He kissed her gently. Her arms wrapped around him and held on.  “Somehow, we’ll figure this out. I promise.”

Evil’s Witness, now titled His Witness To Evil, was my 2009 Golden Heart Entry and Golden Leaf Winner.  To learn about my more recent releases please visit my website www.autumnjordon.com  Don’t forget to join my newsletter.

 

 

 

 

 

No part of this post may be copied or reproduced without the expressed permission of the author, Autumn Jordon.

 

12 responses to “Suspense Or Mystery 101”

  1. That’s so helpful. I sometimes blur the lines between mystery and suspense!

    2+

  2. Excellent suspense examples, Autumn! As an author of both mysteries and suspense/thrillers, I often give this short and simple guide of where readers experience different genres.

    Mysteries – HEAD. Stories that get readers thinking and puzzling.

    Suspense/thrillers – HEART. A great suspense gets the heart racing.

    Dark Thrillers/Horror – GUT. These stories twist the gut.

    5+

    Users who have LIKED this post:

    • avatar
  3. Fascinating to see the lines between mystery and suspense – and very timely for me! I seem to keep having conversations on this topic right now (and it’s not one I know much of anything about!) – thanks for the primer.

    1+

    Users who have LIKED this post:

    • avatar
  4. Darynda Jones says:

    I LOVE THIS!!! I remember having to research this because I had no clue what the difference was. And there is a difference. Totally sharing this!

    1+

    Users who have LIKED this post:

    • avatar
  5. Tamara Hogan says:

    I love crafting stories with the villain as a POV character. It really jacks up the tension when the reader knows something that other characters don’t!

    1+

    Users who have LIKED this post:

    • avatar
    • I always love my villain too much to tell them to zip it. Often though, I do keep their identity a secret until the climax. I just adding that mystery element to the suspense plot.

      0

  6. Cynthia Huscroft says:

    Thank you for pointing out the differences and how sometimes subtle nuances can take it the story in one direction or another.

    As a newb to writing anything other than blogs, sage advice is so helpful and welcome.

    0

Subscribe to the Blog

The Latest Comments

  • Jennifer Bray-Weber: What an amazing class of GH ladies. So excited for each of you. And, wow! What great covers!...
  • Cynthia Huscroft: Oops, forgot this! I would love to receive the PTO MURDER CLUB SERIES: Rest in Pieces & Blown...
  • Tamara Hogan: I’d LOVE the other two books in the series!! Thanks so much – and thanks for your kind...
  • Nicole Terry: HOLY COW!!! O_O What a wonderful surprise! Thank you for the gift and for sharing your work! This made...
  • Katie Graykowski: DRUM ROLL PLEASE–the winner of the $46.00 amazon gift certificate is Nicole Terry! I just...

Archives