Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cozies versus Suspense/Mysteries

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the difference between a traditional mystery verses a suspense (or hybrid suspense/mystery) and a cozy mystery.


For me, understanding the differences has been key as I craft a proposal for a new cozy series. I’m the type of person who needs to really process through things and understand the foundation, and once I have that firm foundation, I can build the house, making changes as I go. If the foundation is strong, then changes as I go won’t make the house collapse.


Here are the key differences as I see them:


Mystery (cozy) verses suspense (or hybrid suspense/mystery)


  • Narrow World View
or
  • Larger World View


By this I mean that the detective in a mystery focuses on a smaller community, a collection of suspects, unraveling the secrets and lies within that community, in order to get to the truth.


In a suspense the action leads the hero to a larger, sometimes international, world which is where the clues lead.

  • Traditionally, the detective is not the center of the drama or action
or
  • The hero/heroine is the at risk him/herself and that is at the center of the drama

Especially in the mysteries of old, the detective doesn’t have personal growth or, put another way, he/she doesn’t go through a hero’s journey. More contemporary mysteries, particularly cozies, do have sleuths who undergo change or growth.


In a suspense, the center of the story is the hero/heroine. He/she is the one in danger and that is what drives the pursuit of justice (or the defeat of the villain). The hero/heroine is not on the periphery as the sleuth often is throughout a big portion of the cozy.

  • Who committed the crime? Will the puzzle be put together
or
  • Will the hero/heroine survive against a smart villain?


This is fundamental. In a mystery, will the detective put the pieces of the puzzle together in time before another death (sometimes the sleuth by this time) occurs? In a suspense, the question is really based on tension that is built from the danger the hero/heroine is in. Whether or not the villain will win is the driving force of the story.

  • Keeping the detective ahead of the reader.
or
  • Keeping the reader ahead of the hero/heroine.


In a mystery, the detective must be smarter than the reader! The puzzle has to be complicated or crafted well enough to fool the reader and keep him/her guessing, yet not too complicated or convoluted. In a suspense, or hybrid, the reader is really ahead of the hero/heroine because we know the danger that’s coming and we’re on the edge of our seats hoping that the hero/heroine is as smart as we are.


I’ve realized that I prefer the cozy model better. For starters, I don’t like to be on the edge of my seat in a heart-pounding scary way.


Blair Witch Trial?


NO WAY!


Hercule Poirot?


DEFINITELY!


So I’m curious, which type of mystery speaks to you? Do you like being ahead of the game as in a suspense, or a few steps behind the sleuth, hoping to put together the puzzle by the end?


~Misa



7 comments:

  1. I like them both, but seeing as I'm reading more cozies lately, I like the idea that the detective is a little ahead of me and feel good when my guess is correct.

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  2. Caolyn Wheat has a good book out that explores the differences in greater detail: HOW TO WRITE KILLER FICTION. Most useful.

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  3. I'm a cozy girl, to be sure!

    Thanks for stopping by, Dru and Laura!

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  4. I used to read Hercule Poirot when I was in junior high and high school but I loved the TV cops shows and gravitated in grown up days to the romantic suspense. I tend to write those too.

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  5. I like them both--my books are more on the cozy side than the thriller side--but probably a bit more edgy than most.

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  6. Me too, both. I love a good police-procedural and a Miss Marple and a detective-noir, well, heck. I just like 'em all =)

    My word verification is thstst. I don't know this word. Anyone?

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  7. Nothing wrong with loving them all!

    Don't know that word, zita!

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