Monday, August 14, 2006

On Mystery and Suspense—and Thrillers, perhaps

What I'm reading: Thrill Me to Death by Roxanne St. Claire

What I'm writing: Book 5, Chapter 6, scene 2 – again.

I've decided that I really don't want to write classic suspense, but in the romance genre, everything is lumped under the "romantic suspense" sub-genre. I don't really like to read true suspense, although the market is full of it. I'm sure there are readers out there who like a good mystery, with romance intertwined, but agents and editors seem to be leaning strongly toward the "suspense is what's selling" approach. But isn't that one of those Catch-22's? People buy it because it's what's out there, and because there aren't a lot of other choices, it continues to sell.

What's the difference? A mystery is a puzzle; the reader is usually two steps behind the protagonist, or at least right with him. In a suspense, the reader is two steps ahead. They're definitely closely intertwined—I'd call them fraternal twins. They often share elements in the same work. And my personal definition of a thriller is a suspense of global proportions – like Christopher Whitcomb's Black and White.

When I read, I don't think it makes it more exciting to see the villain's POV and what he's doing. That's suspense, where you know the bomb is under the table. It's a well-respected genre, don't get me wrong. I just happen to prefer to discover things along with my hero and heroine. Knowing what's around the corner, or behind the tree, makes me want to skip ahead. I feel like it's 'cheating' to know more than the main characters. And I'm often guilty of skimming the villain POV scenes, especially when it's that mysterious "he." I'm more likely to accept that third POV if I don't know it's the villain. Surprise me. Make me go back and see the signs the good author has carefully sprinkled throughout the book. Let me hit myself upside the head and say, "Why didn't I see that one coming?"

I guess it's because my first exposure to the genre was Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Speckled Band. I was hooked, and never able to love Hitchcock's approach the same way. Don't get me wrong – I'm not dissing the man's genius. It's just not on my "forget the house, who needs to cook? drop everything and spend the day in the chair" to do list.

I write, in the romance convention, from the POV of the hero and heroine, but not the villain. As a matter of fact, in some books, the villain isn't a person, but an organization or conspiracy. There are 'bad guys' to be sure, but nobody sees them until the hero and/or heroine do.

Will I be able to sell? I don't know. Anyone else out there like more of a straight mystery?

Meanwhile, I'm holding fast to my two POV approach, but trying to instill more elements of suspense within my mystery.


Anonymous said...

Terry, I liked your distinction between suspense and mystery. I grew up on Sherlock Holmes and books by Agatha Christie, but right now I don't have a preference. If the book makes me turn pages, it's all that matters! Great website, btw!

Terry Odell said...

Thanks, Olga.
I think I've read every Holmes and every Agatha Christie at least three times. Right now, I'm working my way through Robert Crais and Michael Connelly on the mystery front. When I'm writing, I try to stay away from the romantic suspense genre for fear my own voice will get lost.

Thanks for checking out my website, too. Kudos to my son for that one.