What distinguishes a thriller novel from mystery and suspense?
Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
By popular demand (okay, three requests) on my blog last week, in which, I differentiated between a mystery and a suspense novel, today I’ll toss thriller into the ring. You can read about how mysteries and suspense differ here.
A thriller is a kissing cousin to both a mystery and a suspense, although the suspense elements usually are stronger than the mystery. The three primary aspects of a thriller are:
- the perpetuated sense of excitement the reader feels. A thriller has an edge-of-your-seat quality to it. That sense of anxiety is produced by suspense (impending doom or danger) and mystery (a dilemma or problem to be solved). The Bourne films are good examples of thrillers. The action is nonstop, with frequent clashes with the enemy(ies) while Bourne is trying to figure out who he is and how he got in this mess–and how to get out.
- the protagonist is on a quest to stop the antagonist, who is clever and wily–more clever and wily than the protagonist at the outset.
- the impending destruction of innocence in the face of evil, and the readers desire for justice and morality to win. This loss of innocence or justice not winning, cause the reader to experience fear and hope throughout the novel.
By their nature, thrillers need to feel realistic, as if the horrendous situation really could happen should the stars align in some horrific perfection. It’s not unusual for the protagonist to die or for innocence to be lost or justice to lose.
Generally the story is told from the protagonist’s point of view, but it’s not unusual for the reader to have superior knowledge, which heightens the excitement when the protagonist stumbles into increasingly dangerous scenarios.
Thrillers have a dark tone. The antagonist isn’t just a killer but a serial killer who does horrific things to his or her victims (a la “The Silence of the Lambs”).
Novelists who write thrillers include John Le Carre (legal thrillers), Dan Brown, and John Grisham.
Television shows that are examples of thrillers are Dexter and Breaking Bad.
What films, TV shows or novels can you think of that are thrillers? And for bonus points, what mysteries and suspense would you name?
What distinguishes a thriller novel from suspense and mystery? Click to tweet.
What makes a good thriller novel? Click to tweet.