By Jeff Reynolds
Maybe you're thinking about writing either a mystery or a tale of suspense. Possibly you're confused on what distinguishes these two genres. You might wonder if one of these two options complements your approach to writing. Then, you could just enjoy another book about the craft of writing.
If I just described you, I highly recommend How to Write Killer Fiction: The Funhouse of Mystery and the Roller Coaster of Suspense by Carolyn Wheat. Let me state up front that 1) this isn't a recent release (it was written in 2003) and 2) this is not a Christian book. Neither nullifies the value of this book for a mystery or suspense writer.
This book can be divided into four parts. First, there's the preface and the introduction which introduces acquaints the reader with the genres of mystery and suspense and their differences. For example, the reader is two steps behind the mystery's detective in the mystery, but may be two steps ahead of the protagonist in suspense.
It's common for suspense to have some mystery and vice versa. Nevertheless, Wheat points out that the genres are so different a true hybrid is rare. She lists Scott Tutterow's Presumed Innocent as an example. Some of Randy Singer's novels come close, but they still are more suspense than mystery.
Part one sheds the spotlight on mystery, while part two focuses on suspense. These two sections contain four chapters each, dealing with the history of the genre, the important elements, the way the story arc appears, and “Endings are hard” – looking at the problems of wrapping the story up.
Part three gives two chapters on the writing process. The first looks at scene vs. style, while the other deals with the debate between Outliners and Blank Pagers (i.e. structure vs. spontaneity). Wheat suggests that mystery writers are naturally outliners, plotting each detail out well in advance and points out that Joe Gores stated suspense “should never be outlined” – an opinion shared by Stephen King and Elmore Leonard.
The epilogue deals with the issue of publishing.
This is a great research tool for writers. I chose to start with the introduction before jumping right into chapter three. Considering I've written a couple of mysteries but am about to start a suspense story, I then read part two. Did reading out of order cause a problem? No.
If you're a suspense or mystery writer, this is a great book for your library. You'd also enjoy this if you're a fan of either of these genres and want to know how they work.
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