When I finished my last project I realized I was in a bit of a dilemma. Based on what I’d read, it wasn’t an unusual spot to be in. My dilemma was, what genre did my book fit in? I hadn’t written a mystery because a reader would know certain things up front my MC didn’t. My MC wasn’t trying to solve the crime, she was simply trying to find out what happened to her parents. It wasn’t a thriller because although I did try to make things suspenseful for her, I didn’t have her hanging by a fingernail out of a plane door, nor did I have her standing on the ledge of some mountain about two thousand feet up with a knife wielding maniac taking swipes at her torso. I didn’t have my bad guy constantly thwarting every attempt she made to figure things out.
I simply wrote it (ha! simply wrote = eighteen months of hair pulling and angst), tried to make it good, typed THE END and then I admit, I sat back and wondered, what the heck is this?
Was it so out of line, so off the mark of anything marketable it was doomed from the get go? I’ve tried not to worry about that. Then, one day, without me trying to figure it out, I was practically handed my answer on a silver platter because I honestly can’t tell you how I land on the sites that answer my questions. I traverse the internet the way a monkey traverses treetop canopies. I cavort here and there without paying attention to what I’m linking to, flip flopping around like a spider on a web. (no pun intended. Well, okay, there is, because it’s a pretty good one if you’ve ever seen a spider spinning a web) Hither thither I go, reading this and that.
I somehow found myself on the Algonquin Redux site and landed on a list that clearly stated the difference between a mystery and a thriller. Here’s the short of it:
A puzzle A nightmare
Curiosity motivates Victim story (at top)
Protagonist has skills Protagonist must learn skills
Thinking is paramount Feeling is paramount
Action is offstage Action is onstage
Small circle of acquaintances Thrust into larger world
Red herrings Cycles of mistrust
Information withheld from audience Information given to audience
Audience a step behind Audience a step ahead
Mostly single Point of View Up to four Points of View
Whodunnit? What will happen?
Ending intellectually satisfying Ending emotionally satisfying
Closure a requirement Can end ambiguously
Series expected Often stand-alone
Usually 300 pages Can be longer
Here’s the link if you want to read the article in it’s entirety. It’s actually pretty short. This was all fine and good but it still didn’t quite nail the way I handled my story, or maybe I should say the way my characters handled the story. Therefore, I still didn’t have a clue. But, lucky me, I subscribe to various blogs and am never at a loss for something to read. And just over a week ago I found my answer here. Hallelujah, what I wrote actually fits nicely into this! Crime fiction! Whoop!
On what constitutes crime fiction:
“I would say that crime fiction is less about the whodunit than about the protagonist’s dilemma in a criminal milieu. The protagonist may not have all the information—so there is a mystery in that he is trying to find something out—but the story is really about how he solves his problems, which are often as much about his lifestyle as about the particular crime that spurs the plot. For instance, in Ray Bank’s brilliant Saturday’s Child, Cal Innes is forced by a local mob boss to find a former employee and the money he stole, but in many ways the story is about Cal trying to find a place for himself and form an adult life within a socioeconomic stratum that offers very few options.”
—Stacia Decker (Donald Maass Literary Agency)
This was such a relief because “crime fiction” isn’t listed very often. If you do a search on it you can find some resources, but mostly you get thriller, suspense and mystery and often all of these are lumped together. When I was trying to buy books so I could read “in the genre” I was writing, suspense was the one I searched under. And oftentimes I ended up giving up because I just couldn’t seem to pinpoint a similar story. (Saturday’s Child above would have been good to know about, for example)
Now I know. A day late and a dollar short maybe, but my book fits somewhere! Clearly!
Have you ever written a book, only to have no idea what the heck it is?