Mystery, Horror, Thriller - What's The Difference?

Mystery, Horror, Thriller – What’s The Difference?


In this post we look at the differences between the mystery, horror, and thriller genres. We also give you tips for writing in each genre.

People are often confused about genres involving crime and suspense, especially those of mystery, horror, and thriller.

Mystery, Horror, Thriller – What’s The Difference?

All three genres involve crimes. All three deal with the unknown. All three hinge on suspense, but in varying degrees and place.

  1. Mystery fiction includes police procedurals, private detective, and cosy mysteries. A crime has already been committed (usually a murder) and the story is about find out out who did it.
  2. Horror fiction includes gothic, paranormal, and non-supernatural stories. A crime is being committed (usually a murder) and the reader is forced to watch it as it happens.
  3. Thriller fiction includes psychological, action, crime, political, espionage, legal, and science fiction stories. A crime is about to be committed (usually a murder) and the protagonist has to try and stop it from happening. The reader becomes invested in this.

Tips For Choosing Your Genre

How do you choose your genre?

How Do I Write A Mystery?

Write a mystery if you enjoy puzzles and developing a formula for solving a crime. You will have to create a sleuth – this could be a professional, like a police inspector, or a private investigator, or somebody who happens to like uncovering mysteries. There are many famous fictional detectives. The great part about writing a mystery is that it follows a typical plot. Read: What Is A Plot? – A Writer’s Resource

Suggested reading:

  1. 5 Fabulous Tips For First-Time Crime Writers
  2. Why People Read Detective Novels
  3. 7 Important Crime-Writing Guidelines
  4. 20 Things A Crime And A Novel Have In Common

Michael Connelly and Ian Rankin write mysteries. Their detectives, Harry Bosch and John Rebus solve the crimes.

How Do I Write Horror?

Write a horror if you are good at writing sitting on the edge of your seat suspense. Everything is in the moment. We are already at (or near) the crime scene. You have to actually write the crime as it is happening. You have to be good at including horrific details whether physical or psychological.

Suggested reading: 

  1. The 3 Pillars Of Horror
  2. 101 Horror Tropes For Writers
  3. Horror Masters: 3 Spooky Tips To Write Like Lovecraft, Poe, & King
  4. 10 Ways To Kick-Start Your Horror Story
  5. On Ghosts & How To Write About Them

Edgar Allan Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, and Stephen King write horror.

How Do I Write A Thriller?

Write a thriller if you are good at foreshadowing. Write a thriller if you love the anticipation and suspense as you watch the protagonist trying to stop something happening (usually a murder). Use a ticking clock – or some other deadline to quicken the pace and raise the stakes. Include plenty of cliffhangers in this genre. Readers like the excitement, intrigue, and tension in these stories.

Suggested reading:

  1. The 5 Pillars Of Thrillers
  2. Thriller Book Title Generator – if you’re looking for a title
  3. 10 Ways To Create Dangerously Nuanced Antagonists

Lee Child writes thrillers. His hero, Jack Reacher usually races against the clock to stop a crime from being committed.

The Last Word

All three genres fall under crime and suspense with a few distinct differences. We hope this post helped you to find out which one you’d like to write. If you’re still looking for more resources, click here: 50 (or so) Fabulous Resources For Crime Writers

Top Tip: Find out more about our workbooks and online courses in our shop.

 by Amanda Patterson
© Amanda Patterson

If you liked this blogger’s writing, you may enjoy:

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Top Tip: Find out more about our workbooks and online courses in our shop.