Thursday, October 31, 2013

Mysteries & Thrillers - The Differences

  By Tom Sawyer

Mysteries and thrillers. What are the differences? The following was acquired some years ago, its original source unknown. And while it is not gospel, it’s not a bad set of guidelines for anyone with questions about the two forms.*

A puzzle
Curiosity motivates
Protagonist has skills
Thinking is paramount
Action is offstage
Small circle of friends
Red herrings
Information withheld from audience
Audience a step behind
Mostly single Point of View
Ending intellectually satisfying
Closure a requirement
Series expected
Usually 300 pages     

A nightmare
Victim story (at top)
Protagonist must learn skills
Feeling is paramount
Action is onstage
Thrust into larger world
Cycles of mistrust
Information given to audience
Audience a step ahead
Up to four Points of View
What will happen?
Ending emotionally satisfying
Can end ambiguously
Often stand-alone
Can be longer

  *Generally speaking

About Tom Sawyer:
Novelist, screenwriter, playwright, Tom Sawyer was Head Writer/Showrunner of classic CBS series, Murder, She Wrote, for which he wrote 24 episodes. He’s written TV movies, 9 network TV pilots, 100 episodes, on staff of 15 series. Edgar and Emmy-nominated, Tom wrote-directed-produced the cult comedy feature Alice Goodbody. Co-librettist/lyricist of JACK, an opera about JFK, he’s taught writing at UCLA, now online at Screenwriters University, publishes Storybase software, authored Fiction Writing Demystified. Tom’s latest conspiracy thriller, bestselling No Place to Run, deals with the truth behind 9/11

Attorney Bill Lawrence’s client, a just-convicted hitman, confides a chilling secret: information that will buy his freedom – evidence of a murder he carried out on Sept. 11, 2001. Bill finds the documents, and knows that he, his family, and his client must immediately disappear.  Uprooted without warning from career and lover, Claudia Lawrence, 24, and brother Adam, 12, figure it’s the worst moment of their lives when, with their parents, they’re thrust into Witness Protection.  Not close. Next morning their mother and father are blown to pieces by a car bomb.  Their father’s client is murdered in his jail cell. Within hours, Claudia’s accused of their parents’ murders. She and Adam become fugitives, running from police, and from rogue FBI agents determined to murder them. Their key to survival: find the evidence their father had – before the bad guys get it – and give it to the authorities. With ingenuity and daring, Claudia and Adam locate this McGuffin, escape seconds ahead of the bad guys – and discover that it makes no apparent sense. Now, they must figure out its meaning – and why people want them dead. Over the next days of breathless chase and harrowing escapes, Adam and Claudia lie, steal, and assume aliases as they outwit people ever more desperate to kill them, while piecing the truth together with the long-distance help of her lover, Nick. Their quest propels them from Houston to LA, to a tiny North Carolina hamlet, to D.C., to a Chesapeake Bay estate, where they confront the major heavy, finally deciphering the puzzle – and its horrific meaning. In a mega-tense climax, facing almost certain death, Claudia makes a moral choice few people ever have to face as she avenges the murders of family and friends – and exposes the truly ugly conspiracy behind the events of 9/11.


jenny milchman said...

This list has some fantastic (and subtle) distinctions on it. Thanks so much for sharing it, Tom. Also...No Place to Run sounds fantastic. To be read!

Unknown said...

I'll never forget my first experience of pitching my novel to a NY agent and my introduction to the world of genre. I thought my book was a mystery, and she explained that thrillers have a sense of urgency and usually conclude in about 48 hours. She liked my concept but brushed me off with, "You've got a thriller here and I don't represent thrillers."