Categories of Suspense: Women-in-Jeopardy

This is the second to the last post in the series of categories of suspense, as given in T. Macdonald Skillman’s book, WRITING THE THRILLER.
Women-in-Jeopardy, also called Fem-Jep or Child-Jep, is easily blurred with the category of Romantic Relationship Suspense. Both contain women characters who “face increasingly frightening series of dilemmas, decisions, and crisis.” Women in jeopardy are in personal danger. Sometimes it’s not the woman in danger, but her child. Villains range from family members to total strangers. As the problems escalate, these women find themselves facing it down alone, their support structure gone. No one believes they are in danger. Authorities dismiss her claims. Evidence disappears. Onlookers doubt this woman’s sanity.

In this category, the protagonists motivations are critical, or the reader won’t believe it. The women in these books can easily fall into the Too-Stupid-To-Live category. You’ve seen these women in the scary movies: the young woman babysitting late at night during a storm; the TV announces a serial killer on the loose in the neighborhood; the girl hears a noise from the attic and heads up to investigate. The audience doesn’t, for a second, believe that this woman is brave. We’re all screaming at her to get out and call the police. She’s entirely too stupid to live through the scene. The protagonist MUST have an extremely good reason for doing the things she does in the novel, or the reader won’t believe it.

Some titles from this genre include WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN? by Mary Higgins Clark, NATHAN’S RUN by John Gilstrap, BLOOD RELATIVE by Carolyn Hougan, SOMEONE’S WATCHING by Judith Kelman, and LOST ANGEL by Marilyn Wallace.

Skillman says, “Writers who tackle fem- or child-jep walk a fine line between empowerment and victimization.” So tackle this category with great care, if you decide this is what you want to write. Critics of this category are brutal.


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