ROMANTIC SUSPENSE OR ROMANTIC MYSTERY?
By: Terry Odell
Congratulations to TrishJ, the winner of Terry Odell's giveaway. Thank you to everyone who participated.
Since this is a blog about romantic suspense, I thought I'd start with a quick "vent" about the genre. According to the publishing industry, romantic suspense includes all romance-themed mystery sub-genres, from cozy to thriller. There's the added hero/heroine story arc, with its requisite Happily Ever After. However, by tacking that 'suspense' term onto the genre, readers might be expecting an actual suspense, not a mystery, and be disappointed.
Mystery isn't the same as suspense. I happen to think I write romantic mysteries, or, as I prefer to call them, "Mysteries with Relationships."
According to the dictionary, suspense is a state of uncertainty, enjoyable tension, or anxiety. A mystery is something you cannot explain, or don't know anything about. It's easy to see how the two overlap.
Often the major difference in writing a mystery as opposed to a suspense will boil down to POV. If there's a villain's POV, then the reader knows what's happened. Suspense. Think Alfred Hitchcock. Do you know the bad guys are waiting in the heroine's apartment. That's suspense.
If there's only the detective's POV (and I'm being simplistic, because often there are multiple POV characters in a mystery, but they're not the villain), then the reader doesn't know what happened. Mystery. Think Sherlock Holmes. Does the heroine show up at her apartment and think something is "off?" That's mystery.
When I started writing my first book, FINDING SARAH, I thought I was writing a mystery. Heck, I'd never even read a romance. But when my daughters, who were reading the manuscript said it was a romance, I figured I ought to read a few. Hundred.
And as I read, I fell in love with the "romantic suspense" genre, although I still think there's room in there for Mysteries With Relationships.
FINDING SARAH starts off as a mystery. Sarah's shop has been robbed and she calls the police. The detective, Randy, tries to solve it. However, later in the book, Randy and Sarah are separated, and Sarah is in danger. Now, the reader will see things through Sarah's eyes that Randy doesn't know, and things through Randy's eyes that Sarah doesn't know. This creates suspense, even though the book wasn't intended as a strictly suspense novel.
In HIDDEN FIRE, the same two characters are part of a more classic mystery. There's been a murder, and Randy must figure out who did it. The reader never sees the killer, so it wouldn't be classified as a suspense, although there's plenty of danger for the reader to worry about.
In DANGER IN DEER RIDGE, because the villain was obvious, I included his POV, and that added elements of suspense to the story. But, in my mind, it's still more of a mystery. If I'd been responsible for labeling romance books that include mystery sub-genres, I'd probably have included a "mystery romance" moniker. But nobody asked me (they never do), so we've got romantic suspense novels that might not have any classic suspense in them. Are they still good books? Of course.
What's your take? Do you like seeing what the bad guys are up to (suspense?) Or do you prefer to follow the protagonists and solve the puzzle with them (mystery)?
Leave a comment, and you'll have a chance to win a download of FINDING SARAH, the romance I thought was a mystery when I started writing it.
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