Genre of the Week- Mystery/Suspense
I thought it might be time to have a particular topic to post on a weekly basis. From now until I run out of genres, a different one will be discussed every Sunday. After seeing the results of the poll I conducted awhile back on favorite genres, it seemed prudent to start out with the most popular one. The idea for this post is to discuss what we expect when reading these types of novels and what we don’t like. Each person has their own preferences, but I think getting those out helps readers tell authors what they favor and it helps authors know what to do and not do.
Below are the things I look for in any book (regardless of genre) where mystery/suspense are key elements. If I have read an author’s book who has posted on this site and their story pertains to what I’m discussing here, they may be used as examples. Reviews and links to the novels mentioned are available if you do a search on this blog.
1) Predictability: Who wants to figure the mystery too soon? “Space Turbulence” by Alex Le Soum is a great example of how to keep a reader guessing until the end.
2) Useful Clues: Some should be real and others red herrings to throw off the readers. Again, Alex Le Soum did this well in her book.
3) Good pacing and focus on the plot– If you want to keep readers invested in the suspense/mystery of the story, don’t divert from that too much with other things. Exceptions would be cross-genre books, such as romance, where time has to be spent on the relationship as well. Yet if you are marketing your novel as strictly mystery and/or suspense, try to keep the story moving forward and limit the character’s personal issues (unless they are part of the obstacles to gaining resolution which I will cover later). “Shadow Path” by P.L. Blair is one book to see on how to do this. The author did an excellent job of keeping focus on the main problem and kept personal matters limited to what fit the plot and character development. She simply left hints that later books in the series could cross into other genres such as romance.
4) Risk and Danger– The best suspense has the character(s) in constant risk of death, even if they don’t recognize the danger at first. “Call Sign: Wrecking Crew (Storm Warning)” by Lynn Hallbrooks does this. This is a very long novel and yet the cast of characters remain in constant danger until the end, which causes the reader to keep wondering who many survive.
5) Personal Stake in Resolving the Problem– This can vary depending on the exact nature of the novel. In a police procedural, it is the detectives job to solve the crime, but that alone doesn’t make for an interesting plot. What helps make it more engaging to the reader is if the MC had a similar crime occur to them or their family. Another method is having someone from the detective’s past causing the problem(s). This raises the stakes and increases the motivation to stop the perpetrator, plus it helps with development of the protagonist and antagonist! Regardless of the type of novel, it is important that the reader know why the MC should try so hard and risk life and limb to “take the bad guy out”. Duty alone isn’t always enough. Once again, “Shadow Path” (mentioned above) is a good example. Stacey Juba’s “Twenty-five Years Ago Today” is also a good one to look at.
There are many other areas that could be covered, but these are the main aspects I thought important. Everyone is welcome to give their own observations or provide examples from their books or ones they have read. Feel free to ask questions as well!