To my three loyal readers, I apologize for the lateness of these posts. I switched blogging sites and forgot to change the address in my contacts. My bad. Now that you’ve had to wait for it, here’s the last post about Carolyn Wheat’s list of 16 differences between mystery and suspense. You can find this list in Wheat’s book HOW TO WRITE KILLER FICTION. It’s also reprinted in T. Macdonald Skillman’s book WRITING THE THRILLER.
Difference number fifteen: Mystery endings must be intellectually satisfying. Suspense endings must provide emotional satisfaction.
I touched on this briefly in a previous post: readers want a chance to solve the mystery themselves. When a writer cheats and leaves out a valuable clue, there is no intellectual satisfaction at the close of the book. A good mystery always leaves the reader feeling like an intellectual giant. Or at least a pretty good detective. In addition to doling out the appropriate clues, readers like to learn something new when they read mysteries: a forensic detail, a ballistics fact, a medical term, a historical tidbit, a scientific discovery. At the end of a good mystery, I feel more knowledgable about the world than I was before I read the book.
Suspense books provide emotional satisfaction. That doesn’t always mean a happy ending. (spoiler alerts) In SPHERE, several characters die and Beth betrays her comrades. In CARRIE, nearly everyone ends up dead. But wow, did we readers love to see Carrie get her revenge! Those bad guys, Chris and Billy, got what were coming to them. Happy endings are satisfying, too. in Michael Crichton’s TIMELINE, Chris, Kate, and the professor make it back to modern times. The historian who wanted to stay in the past, Andre, got his wish. The end of the book provided the appropriate closure for the characters I cared about the most.
That wraps up my discussion on the differences between mysteries and suspense stories. Stay tuned for an exploration of the categories of suspense novels.