Whether you're writing straight suspense, thriller, mystery or combinations; the rules for each are different.
Adding an element of suspense to any story keeps your reader turning pages, but there are clear distinctions between mystery and suspense. Now mind you can mix some elements of mystery into your thriller and some thrilling elements into your mystery. However mixing too much of these elements together will muddy the water when you're submitting to a publisher or agent. If you consider yourself a mystery or thriller writer; look at these guidelines. If you're breaking too many rules, consider changing format, point of view, or development to define the category of your manuscript. It shows the publisher/agent that you know on which shelf your book belongs.
• The Identity of the Antagonist: In a mystery, readers do not know who committed the murder (until the end); they try to figure it out along the way. In
a thriller, readers often know who the bad guy is, and hope that the hero can stop him.
• Appeal to Readers: Mystery readers take pleasure in the intellectual exercise of puzzling out a crime. Thriller readers enjoy the emotional aspect —
riding out the highs and lows of the charged storyline.
• Point of View: Mysteries tend to be written in the first person, while thrillers more often are written in the third person, and from multiple points
• Stakes: While solving a murder is by no means a “low stakes” endeavor, thrillers tend to have “higher” stakes that imperil larger numbers of people.
• Pace: Mysteries usually have a slower pace than the fast-and-furious plotting of a thriller.
• Action: Mysteries often have fewer action sequences than thrillers, in which the characters regularly find themselves in great danger.
• Plot complexity: Mystery plots tend to be less complex than thrillers, which rely on a constant flow of events to provide a sense of immediacy.
• Character depth: The slower pace of mysteries allows for greater depth of character than the thriller form.
• Sub-genres: Mysteries tend to get sub-divided based on the identity of their protagonists: “amateur sleuth” mysteries feature a main character whose main
occupation is not crime-solving; “police procedural s” often follow a police detective; “private investigator” novels, naturally, star private detectives.
Thrillers get sub-divided based on the cultural or professional world in which the threat arises. Thus you have “medical thrillers,” “spy thrillers,” “financial/corporate
thrillers,” and many others.
I have to admit, my suspense novels mix too many of these differing components together. I need to go back and figure out which genre I'm writing. It means throwing out some of the long hours and revisions I've already made, but what else is new. Having a distinct genre is the first element of your novel that can determine if you're a hit with reader's or just a passing thrill.
In the meantime, keep writing!