The suspense/thriller genre is closer connected to the mystery genre, but the perspective is different. A mystery genre starts with a crime that needs to be solved. Suspense starts with what’s at stake. It creates drama before the crisis event. For a good suspense to work, the reader has to know learn what the protagonist is up to and what’s at stake if he fails. Dean Koontz is a master at suspense. In “The Husband”, we learn in the first scene that somebody has kidnapped the protagonist wife. The story is who did it but what’s at stake if the protagonist fails.
The suspense writer must create tension by inserting a strong protagonist and developing inventive story developments that avert a certain outcome. The suspense/thriller is usually told in 3rd person multiple points of view. Every scene is fast paced and ends with a cliffhanger or ticking clock that makes the reader want to turn the page. It also needs to be filled with misdirection to keep the reader guessing. It’s generally 90,000 to 100,000 words long.
Good suspense never lets up. It’s a fast-paced pressure cooker that builds the tension from the beginning and keeps it up until the end.
This article from Writer’s Digest Online shows nine ways to keep the suspense high in your story.
Suspense/Thriller Subcategories often overlap. Here are some of them.
Action/Adventure: This contains a race against the clock with lots of violence, and an obvious antagonist. Think sword fight, gun battles, and explosions.
Conspiracy: The hero discovers a conspiracy among a powerful group of enemies, but he can’t prove it, and nobody will believe him.
Crime: A crime of series of crimes is committed. The difference between this and the mystery genre is the perpetrator is clear immediately. Sometimes this genre focuses on the criminal instead of the hero and usually focuses on action rather than psychological aspects.
Disaster: The main conflict is due to an act of nature.
Horror: Horror main intent is to illicit fear in the reader.
Drama: These suspense stories are usually a little slower paced and rely on character development more than plot.
Eco-thriller: These stories involve environmental aspects. The antagonist is usually a corporation or government official whose actions cause havoc on the environment.
Legal: The hero is a lawyer, and some or most of the setting takes place in a courtroom.
Medical: This is a suspense novel that revolves around medical personnel.
Political: The hero or antagonist is an agent of the government.
Psychological: The conflict between the main characters is mental and emotional, rather than physical.
Spy: The good guy is usually a spy fighting against terrorists, plots to overthrow the government, or evil regimes.
Techno-thriller: These usually involve the military.
Romance: A suspense/thriller that has an element of romance.
Because some of the sub-categories overlap, I didn’t list many authors there. These are some examples of Suspense/Thriller Authors are Dean Koontz, Ian Fleming, Ted Decker, James Scott Bell, Tom Clancy, Dee Henderson, Brandilyn Collins, Stephen King, Dan Brown, TL Hines, James Patterson, Paulo Coelho, John Grisham, Nora Roberts, Terry Brennan, and Robert Ludlum.