Mystery, Horror, Suspense

Hi, gang! Craig here again, and it’s about that time. October is my favorite month of the year, and the Halloween vibe is a big part of that. When it comes to stories, there are three genres that seem to get the most attention here:

• Mystery

• Horror

• Suspense

Let’s tackle them in order. Mystery involves revealing a story that has already happened, e.g. who killed the fashion model? Sure, the timeline will converge, and the main character will face his/her own deadly threat later on. It’s the solving of something unknown that makes it a mystery.

Horror puts the reader into the room when it happens. The reader gets to see, hear, smell, taste, etc all of the terrible things that are happening to the victim.

Suspense involves something that will, or might, happen later on. The reader knows all about it, but the hero has to act to prevent it from happening. Imagine showing the missile launch, and the target city. Then move to the target city and put your reader there. They know and anticipate what is going to happen very soon.

These are nutshell explanations of complex matters. Honestly, the best Halloween type stories use all three of these styles to relate the tale. Think of your monster going off leash and eating co-eds. We don’t have to see the first few, giving it an element of mystery. As we chase clues, we get a refresher course by attending the monster’s next meal, giving it an element of horror. If we don’t act, another co-ed is going to get eaten, giving that element of suspense.

I confess that suspense might be my favorite of the bunch, because it creates a level of tension that works for me. I started off with the idea of writing about suspense techniques, then realized I’d already done that about two years ago. Here is the link to that one.

So what kind of tips can we share today? (Knowing I already made the suspense post.) This is the audience participation part of the post. I’ll share a few opinions, and open the floor to you guys.

Cut down on the gore. Readers get over exposed to it, and it loses its value quickly. I remember a movie promo from the 1970’s that promised to crash over 100 cars. This drew out everyone I knew in the cowboy-centric town I grew up in. Ten minutes into the film we were all looking for the door. Over exposure removed all the value from the crashes. Blood and guts will provide a gut reaction, but overdoing it gets boring. Diamonds are valuable because they are rare.

Make it personal. Those missiles aren’t going to fall on the target city, they’re going to fall on Mom’s house.

Use uncomfortable settings to ramp up the creepiness. Walking across the manicured golf course at night to the crime scene could easily become stumbling through thorny blackberry thickets, deep in the forest, while swatting at swarms of mosquitos.

Handicap your main character. We want him/her to be the underdog in the story. This could be a physical handicap, like putting Jimmy Stewart in a wheelchair in Rear Window. Audry Hepburn portrayed a blind girl in Wait Until Dark. Maybe it’s more of a phobia, a superstition, or internal creed that holds the hero back. Even something as simple as no cellular service in that thorny, mosquito-infested forest can help.

Those are a few that didn’t appear in my older post. Now it’s your turn. What can you add to the list? Do you think a few of these techniques might be useful to you in your own paranormal tales?

Keep in mind that other genres can benefit from these techniques too. Science Fiction is one that regularly uses these techniques.

I mentioned at the beginning that October is my favorite month. Part of this involves my birthday, which is when this will post. I’ll be at a seminar in San Antonio when this goes live. I promise to participate in the comments, but might not be Johnny on the Spot. In the mean time, other Story Empire hosts will be around. They’re nice, talk to them. I’ll be along as soon as I can.

Since we’re deep into the October festivities, I’m going to mention that all of us at Story Empire have some great Halloween oriented books available. You’ll find some with romance elements, some science fiction, urban legends, monsters, and more. They come in all lengths from collections of short stories to series of novels. Since today is my birthday, my wish is that you will check out one of the Story Empire authors for your next Halloween read.

Here are their Amazon Pages, for your shopping convenience, if you’re so inclined:

Harmony Kent, Joan Hall, P. H. Solomon, Staci Troilo, Mae Clair, C. S. Boyack

49 thoughts on “Mystery, Horror, Suspense

  1. Pingback: Author Inspiration and Last Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

  2. You mentioned personal and for me that’s the key. Give me something I can relate to. Maybe it’s a memory from my childhood or something more recent. Whatever it is if I can feel it and I can see something isn’t right now it becomes my problem. It a writer can pull that off they are a true blue story teller.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wonderful suggestion. We don’t generally know you, and we want a broad audience, so it’s a trick to find something that is personal to many people, but it can be done. It also works well with suspense. Show something off-beat, but don’t explain it too quickly.

      Like

  3. I think tension is the one most essential ingredient to any of the genres. And, then just when you think everything is going to be okay, raise the stakes. The meteor is going to land on top of Mom’s house. She manages to escape just before it hits. Then, she gets in her car and it won’t start. She finally gets it going and pulls out onto the freeway only to be t-boned by an eighteen-wheeler. It can go on and on. Great post and Happy Birthday to you and to Lisa!! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Enjoyed the post, Craig. I tend to write a blend of mystery and suspense as well, the horror stuff scares me too much, lol. I don’t mind knowing the killer is in the house, or even that vision of his/her butcher knife glinting in the moonlight, but don’t show me that knife slicing and dicing my victim to shreds!
    Happy birthday, Craig!

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Pingback: Three places at once | Entertaining Stories

  6. I positively love these genres, with mystery and suspense being at the top. I read some horror, but not a lot. Much of it does gets overdone with the gore theme. A little goes a long way as you said. I think of movies and get turned off by those that SHOW me the gore. Let me IMAGINE what is going to happen and most times I’ll creep myself out far quicker and far greater than anything that gets splashed on the screen.

    When it comes to reading, another element I love is when an author takes the everyday/mundane (whether setting or element) and builds the tension into something ghastly. Stephen King is a master at doing that. My writing tends to cross boundaries of all three of these genres. It’s great that they intermingle so well.

    Enjoyable post, Craig. Happy birthday!!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Love that image. Totally set the mood. Also want to thank you for the shout-out and wish you a happy birthday.

    I’m going to add a ticking clock to the mix. It might be more of a thriller device, but I think it adds tension to any genre, especially a suspense-driven one. If you have a deadline to stop something from happening or to make something happen, it increases the drama.

    Great post, Craig.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. First, let me say you had me from the opening image, Craig, which is one of the scariest, creepiest pictdures I’ve ever seen. Oh, the pain and misery it evokes, without having to show me all the gruesome details!

    Excellent post, Craig, even though I don’t think my books fall into any of those categories. Still, learning more about what they entail is a good thing. Thanks! And oh yeah, have a very happy birthday with no horror involved, unless it’s contained between the covers of a new book or two! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Totally right on the gore. Although, I have seen some movies and shows that can get away with ‘too much’ by making it oddly comical. It still comes off as an acquired taste, but that seems to be an easier way to handle it. Honestly, I prefer suspense too. My favorite way to build it is to try to touch on every sense of the character in question and build up a scene where you know something is coming. I think of it as the literary equivalent of suspenseful music, which gives a hint, but you still jump when it happens. You really do need build up for all three of these categories. Otherwise, you’re working almost entirely off shock value and you can only do that so many times before it loses its effect.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Great post, Craig and Happy Birthday! I like your descriptions of each genre. Suspense is also my favorite but I guess I blend to blend an element of mystery. In my WIP a crime has occurred but I drop hints the MC is in danger. Also, another MC is hiding a secret. I like weaving hints (one author described them as breadcrumbs) throughout the story to keep readers guessing the identity of the killer (or in the case of my last book, an arsonist).

    Liked by 4 people

  11. Another great post, Craig! And I love the picture you chose for this one … nice and creepy. In my current WIP, the MC has just had her little finger gnawed off by a rat. Also, it’s the year 3040 in settled space, and everyone’s implants have just failed, with catastrophic results. My MC has no clue how to live without tech, so she’s well handicapped at the moment. Another character in there is far too moral, which sends her down more difficult paths and stops her from adequately handling less scrupulous people around her, so her virtuousness handicaps her. In The Glade, I gave the MC a fatal disease to deal with, as well as the evil in the forest, lol. This is what I love about fiction, we can turn even the most common everyday stuff into a handicap and a fearfest. Thanks for sharing all our book links too, that was a lovely surprise! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!! 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

  12. Pingback: Mystery, Horror, Suspense — Story Empire | Fantasy Gift Sources: Book Reviews, Article Resources, News

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