You've heard of Writer's Block? Well, now there's "Suspense Block." Just kidding. But seriously, it's not always easy to tell the difference between mystery and suspense or how to create that suspense, and since this is something I'm currently trying to learn, I thought there might be other writers struggling with the same thing. So I thought I'd share. Most, if not all, my information has come from Carolyn Wheat's book, "How to Write Killer Fiction."
To begin with, the difference between a mystery novel and a suspense novel. Mysteries are puzzles, generally about who murdered whom, and the protagonist already has the necessary skills to solve that puzzle. Think of Miss Marple or Sherlock Holmes. A mystery's story structures is also based on myth.
Suspense books, on the other hand, has its background in fairy tale; i.e., its protagonist faces tests and learns skills which not only prepare him for the final showdown with the enemy, but also increase his maturity level. In essense, the hero "grows up."
Next, there are several tools we writers can use to create suspense. I will mention three.
First, suspense, unlike mysteries which are meant to challenge the mind, are emotional rollercoaster rides. At the beginning of the story, the protagonist is plunged from her safe world into a frightening, larger-than-herself world. There, she is driven from one extreme problem (test) to another and threatened with the "ultimate" danger.
Second, suspense relies heavily on information given to the reader but not necessarily to the protagonist. Edgar Allen Poe described this element as a bomb hidden beneath a table of men playing cards. The game may be even more boring than we can stand, but because we, the reader, know there's a bomb there, just waiting to go off at any minute, we watch on the edge of our deliciously terrified seats.
And finally, because suspense is an emotional experience, the reader must feel what the protagonist feels; the writer must take great pains to create an exciting, emotional, vicarious experience for the reader. If he doesn't, our rollercoaster will flatten into a merry-go-round. Or worse, a slow train through the zoo.
Like I said, there are more suspense tools, but I won't list them here. I'll simply tell you they're out there, give you a few tools, and let those nuggets work on your mind until you act.
Hmm. Is that a form of mystery or suspense?