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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Romantic Mystery vs. Romantic Suspense

What is the difference between romantic mystery and romantic suspense? Wait, is there a difference between romantic mystery and romantic suspense? I’m glad you asked.

A lot of readers (and authors) look at romantic mystery and romantic suspense as being interchangeable. However, there’s a big difference between the two. At its simplest, a mystery is a puzzle that needs to be solved – an intellectual game of whodunit. In a mystery, the action is more mental than physical, and although there is danger, it usually – though not always – has already taken place before the book opens. But to me the biggest difference is that in a romantic mystery the hero or heroine is the ‘sleuth’, so the story is about what happens to someone else, not the main character, and how the main character solves the puzzle.

Suspense is about a threat or imminent danger that must be resolved. Something is coming and the reader is waiting for it to happen. The suspense story is typically about what happens to the main character and brings the question, will they survive? The action is an emotional roller coaster and the reader should identify with the hero or heroine and the danger they face – becoming a participant in the ride. A suspense story is about the characters’ journey through the book, and the ending therefore needs to be emotionally satisfying, where a mystery is to be intellectually satisfying.

Since I’m talking about ‘romantic’ mystery and suspense – there will always be an emotionally satisfying ending to the romance in both the mystery and suspense. Without it, the story wouldn’t be a romance. However, the solution to the puzzle needs to be an intellectual one. That means that in a romantic mystery, it is the writer’s job to keep the identity of the villain from the reader until the end. But for the emotional read, the suspense, it is okay for the reader to know the identity of the villain. After all, the threat from an unknown is not as emotionally engaging as the threat from someone you (or the hero/heroine) know(s).

There is some crossover in the genres as a lot of today’s mysteries contain suspense. Perhaps this is where a lot of the confusion stems. I’m really not sure. Some believe the labels don’t matter, that if you are familiar with an author’s work you know what to expect. However if you’re trying to sell a book, or attract new readers, I believe the label matters. And so this is me, tossing around labels…My name is Sarah Grimm, and I write romantic suspense.

Sarah Grimm
where dangerously sexy & happily-ever-after collide 
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  1. Thanks for the explaination. The lines do blurr. I write romantic suspense. I'm not sure I could create the puzzle required and present red herrings required for a mystery. Great post.

  2. Great clarification. Happy Halloween!

  3. Well as a newbie, I'm certainly grateful for the clarification.

  4. Points well taken. I know I've wondered about this, but I definitely agree on the suspense line of thinking--you care about a threat to someone you know, so knowing the villain's intentions is important.