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How to Write a Novel: Genres Part Two

I’m just continuing the genres, so no need for another introduction:

Suspense and Thriller

Like Sci-fi and Fantasy, these two genres always seem to be mentioned together and while like the sci-fi and fantasy, they can closely intertwine, they aren’t the same. The thing is, they have some of the same conventions and characteristics.

Then what is the difference? Well, from what I’ve read, the suspense has a pacing that’s a tad slower than the thriller. In the thriller, a lot of different things are happening at once and you really have to pay attention. Suspense is a little easier to follow than this and the threat tends to be more focused on the protagonist that the thriller, which may be more focus on a threat to humanity and that makes it all the more complicated. In other words, both genres are notorious for a fast plot.

These two genres are almost never paired alone. I swear, every time I see this it can be paired with another genre. The fantasy thriller, the suspense mystery, the romantic thriller… Of course, a story can be just a thriller, but there’s always some mystery or something that needs to be found out in a thriller or suspense.

But the most important thing about this genre is that it’s famous for its ability to create tension in the novel and the audience to the point where you have to know, where your heart pounds in your chest because you know that if the protagonist fails, the entire world is going to hell or at least just the main character. Some conventions are:

Fast plot
The mystery
Murders, assassinations
Government conspiracies
Technology is the enemy
Former spies, agents etc…
World as a setting (a lot different countries)
Resourceful protagonist
Antagonist is a world power
A lot more…


It’s exactly what it says. The main plot is centered around trying to find out something and it doesn’t necessarily have to be solving a crime. It’s often paired with thriller and suspense, but a mystery doesn’t have to be fast paced like those two genres. But like suspense and thriller, mystery is notorious for building the tension and laying it on thick. Many genres have some aspect of the mystery in them, but what makes a novel a mystery is that the focus is on the mystery. Sure Harry Potter had to figure out who the heir of slytherin was and what exactly was the beast of the chamber of secrets, but the story wasn’t a mystery. In my novel, my protagonist has to figure some things out, but it’s certainly not a mystery because it doesn’t focus on the mystery of it. Nancy drew? Certainly a mystery because she’s always actively trying to solve the mystery. Sherlock Holmes? He’s a detective. Enough said. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Yes. The story focuses on trying to figure out who this man is committing these hideous acts and they find out what it is.

The thing that makes a mystery is not the pace and not even the tension, but the complexity, yet simplicity of the plot. It’s the subtle things that make the mystery. They’re notorious for making you look in one direction and all the evidence points to it, but come to find out the real evidence and the real solution is everything the reader turns a blind eye to. Conventions are:

False leading
Something that needs to be found out
A crime that needs to be solved
Protagonist actively trying to solve the mystery
Nothing is ever what it seems
No one is ever who they seem
An old house
A lot more…

The Horror

These are your scary movies. Everything that’s about ghost and the supernatural and although fantasy tends to have the supernatural, the thing about the horror is that its intent is to scare the audience. Now whether this is done through suspense, monster from the underworld trying to kill, death trying to catch up with the characters, the intent is to freak the hell out of the audience. You don’t even really have to know what the spook factor is. The reason Paranormal Activity was so successful is because we were never actually sure what the hell it was haunting the characters. Sure it was said to be a demon, but we never actually saw the demon. We just saw some footprints, a sheet drifting, and the lights swinging, but the fact that we never actually saw what it was, especially when it dragged her out the bed, is part of the scare factor. Add in the fact that there was no music to warn you what was about to happen, and that makes for one good movie. A spirit that follows you and can’t be gotten rid of.

There are other scary ones too, but I love the ones where it’s not clear what the horror factor is, but we know it’s scaring the hell out of us. This genre often has mystery elements in it, but it doesn’t always have to be solved. Horror can allow the mystery to never be solved. Some conventions are:

The haunted house
Gore (as in the slasher movies)
Monster that’s never seen
Isolation of the group of characters
Things that go bump in the night
The Night
Vengeful Spirits, ghost
Mysterious forces (not really ghost or spirits)
A lot more….

So these are all the main genres, and anything else just falls somewhere under it or is an audience. YA isn’t a genre. It’s an audience. All genres can have adventure and action, even the romance. Women’s fiction is just fiction that appeals to women. A gothic novel has it's own conventions, but usually falls under one of the main genres. The thing about genres is that you don’t have to choose just one. They can cross and match and mix.  I’m a fantasy writer, but I can write a damn good romance too. So those are the genres. Tomorrow… Well nothing tomorrow. It’s my day off. I’ll post something up here though.

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You might also find helpful:
The Gothic Novel

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