Monday, April 9, 2012

Is it HORROR or Suspense?

Not long ago, I read a great article (6 Secrets to Creating and Sustaining Suspense by Steven James) in WRITER'S DIGEST magazine (January 2012 issue, page 28), and it had a chart that detailed the differences between the categories of mystery, horror, and suspense.

I found it very interesting. I wish I had an online link to let you SEE the original chart, but I don't; so here's my variation of it:


Timing of Crime/Crisis
The violence occurs before the story begins.
Readers see it happening.
Readers anticipate that it will happen.
Narrative Question
Who was responsible for the crime?
How will the character die?
How can the crisis or impending crime be averted?
Reader Orientation
Readers may lag behind the detective in understanding the clues.
Readers view the action; they’re in on the secret.
Readers know about danger that the characters do not.
Reader Appeal
Head (intellectual curiosity)
Gut (visceral reaction)
Heart (worry and concern)

Which genre do you prefer to read? Write?

Editorial Note of Thanks: Diane Carlisle gave me the ONE LOVELY BLOG AWARD. Thanks! I will better acknowledge and pass along awards after my scheduled AtoZ posts. :)


  1. Hi Margo! I like suspense myself.Thanks for redoing that chart.


  2. I definitely write horror; there's gore, there's ghosts and there's pure evil, all unfolding before the reader's eyes. I just love it!

  3. I like writing mystery but my fav is suspense.

    Helpful post!


  4. That is the best, clearest, simplest explanation of those three genres I've ever seen. I'm definitely into suspense.

  5. I always wondered about these differences. Thank you for breaking it down for me.

  6. I like a combo of all three. I think the chart is superb though.

  7. I've never seen it analysed like that before, and I wouldn't have known how to describe the differences, yet, like most genuine insight, it seems blindingly obvious when you lay it out like that :)

  8. Hi Margo. Thanks for sharing the chart. Thanks for following my blog. I'm now a follower of yours. Have a great day!

  9. Hi Margo! Great chart!

    I like a mixture of mystery AND suspense --> Maybe a suspenseful pursuit of a killer? I like the intellectual whodunnit aspect, but I also like the "what's gonna happen?!" excitement of suspense.

    I know -- I'm a line crosser, a genre-blender, and a glutton who just wants it all, lol!

  10. I love the breakdown, thanks for sharing! I'm working on a YA horror right now, and it's really fun!!!

  11. What a great explanation of the genres. I definitely fall into the suspense category, with a bit of mystery. Definitely not horror, though. I like watching 'thriller' type movies, as well.
    Great blog!

  12. I love charts, and this one is super. Thanks, Margo!

  13. What a timely post! I don't think I'm writing horror, more paranormal. But don't ask me what the difference is! I'm not so good on genre, actually. Actually, the other day I asked a (non-writer) friend what genre she liked to read and she asked, "What's genre?"

  14. Well done, easily understood.Good resource to remember.

  15. I prefer mysteries, especially Agatha Christie.

  16. Really succinct differentiation. I think I might get it now. I like mystery and suspense, not usually horror - but I have delved into it.

  17. I don't like horror as much. Suspense is fun. It's like going up that hill on the roller coaster, knowing that big hill is coming, but not knowing exactly how it will feel.

  18. That's a good table. Not keen on horror myself, it gives me nightmares, then the kids have to comfort me :-)

  19. I absolutely LOVE this chart, Margo! I can see for myself now that my story is definitely a Mystery. :D Thanks for sharing this!

  20. Hi Margo, thanks for the chart and the article, great info for anyone serious about writing.

  21. Ooo... I love charts. I do better with visual things. I'm a total suspense girl all the way. This was fun! Thanks, Margo! :D

  22. That's a great chart. I just read something similar on Goodreads but not as defined as this!

  23. I think I prefer to read the mystery, but would write the suspense. I would totally avoid the horror, but I can see slipping into it now and then. Thanks for checking my post, Margo!

  24. Oh, I found this chart so helpful! Thanks for sharing

  25. Excellent definitions!
    I haven't read horror in a long while, but it's a genre I keep drifting back to. I like to be scared, it seems :)

    Fellow A-Z Bloggy Buddy
    Mithril Wisdom

  26. I like mysteries and suspense, and the chart you shared helpfully distinguishes between the two.

  27. That's a very helpful little chart. I'm trying my hand at mystery writing at the moment, but looking at that, I think I should definitely check out suspense as well. It sounds like just my sort of thing.

  28. I like that grid.

    I prefer Horror to both read and write.

    I am trying to read all the A to Z blogs, but coming back to the ones I really like.
    Looking forward to seeing what you do all month!

    The Other Side
    The Freedom of Nonbelief

  29. For many years, I preferred horror. I'm still a fan but prefer to read and write suspense and paranormal fiction now.

    Ellie, who has 3 blogs in the challenge
    Ellie's Blank Book
    Ellie's Couch
    Help Michigan Pets