What is a thriller

How is a classic crime novel different from a gripping thriller?

Every mystery writer knows: the resolution of a mystery should never be anticipated. But this much should be said: If your crime novel or thriller ends up in the wrong "genre drawer", you will lose valuable readers and book sales. Especially as an author of suspense literature, you should know the difference between a crime novel and a thriller. What characterizes a classic crime novel and what is a thriller? We explain the typical characteristics of both genres and clarify why a clear categorization of your book as a thriller or crime novel is so important.

Thriller or crime thriller - why does it matter?

You're writing the first pages of a suspense novel and haven't yet thought about whether it will be a classic thriller or more of a thriller, or possibly a hybrid of the two? Of course, the main thing is to keep the reader gripped to the pages with intense suspense.

Why should I assign my novel to a genre?

Don't forget that there are reader preferences and expectations that need to be met, and for which it may be necessary to start as early as the book writing Knowing what genre pigeonhole it will be placed in later. Alone in the Thriller there are different subcategories like classic detective stories, spy novels, political or psychological thrillers. And in a detective story, for example, readers don't expect bloodthirsty horror scenes and, in the worst case, put the book aside and give it a negative review. To meet reader expectations, you need a clear classification into a genre.

Stand out in search directories

Findability is another reason why your book should clearly belong to a genre. When booksellers search for crime or thrillers in the wholesale search directories, it is important that your book is classified in the appropriate category. The same goes for online stores. If a thriller lover is looking for a read there, they'll type in the keyword "thriller" and sift through the search results. If your brand new thriller is categorized as such and possibly even has the term "thriller" - or even better "political thriller" or "psychological thriller" - on the coverthe reader knows exactly what to expect.

Also Publishers require a clear classification in the application. Some publishers specialise in certain genres and subgenres and estimate how well your novel will sell. If, for example, the publisher has successfully published thrillers while regional crime novels have hardly sold at all, this is a decisive argument in favour of publishing your novel. manuscript to watch at all, depending on the genre.

But what is the difference between a crime novel and a thriller? What makes a typical crime novel and how can a thriller be characterized? To begin with: even literary scholars, agents or editors often have different opinions about what characterises a crime novel or thriller or makes it successful. And, of course, crime novels with features of a thriller do exist. But the point here is to present the typical characteristics.

What is a crime novel?

A crime, such as a robbery or murder, is typical of a classic detective novel and takes place at the beginning of the story. The course of the plot focuses on the solution by one or more professional investigators or amateur investigators. Suspense is created by the investigation leading to false leads, misdirection, or new threats. Likewise, there can be follow-up crimes or the protagonist gets into danger himself. In the end, it's a matter of whether and how the perpetrator can be caught, and how cleverly the characters go about it. By the way, to easily plan such a plot, you can use the Snowflake Method operate.

Within the crime genre there are numerous sub-genres, such as detective thrillers, regional thrillers, historical thrillers, thrillers with romantic overtones, thrillers in the medical milieu or in the police or political milieu. The more finely you can classify your crime novel, the greater your chances of selling it. Readers of regional crime novels, for example, usually prefer them because they are interested in the region in question. And the target group for romantic crime novels is different from that for political thrillers.

Examples of authors of classic detective stories include Raymond Chandler, Agatha Christie, Georges Simenon and Patricia Highsmith.

What is a thriller?

Thrills, thrills, thrills! This is a simplified explanation of what constitutes a thriller. The term is derived from the English word "thrill". Unlike a crime novel, in which the main focus is on solving a crime, in a thriller there is an ongoing existential threat to the protagonists. Such as a serial killer, an impending natural disaster, a group of conspirators, spies, or aliens. At its best, this threat is palpable on every page.

In the thriller, the focus is not on a professional investigator whom we observe during his investigative work, but on a person who is abruptly confronted with danger. In the course of the thriller, the tension increases to the point of unbearability, because the expected disaster is seemingly unpreventable or new threats are added. Meanwhile, the main characters desperately and relentlessly try to save their own lives or avert a catastrophe. Of course, also authentic and interestingly laid out Figures an important role.

A thriller can also be divided into different subgenres such as action thriller, mystery thriller, science fiction thriller or spy thriller. If the thriller deals with the psychological stress and the soul life of the main character, it is called a psychological thriller.

Typical examples of popular thrillers and bestsellers in the genre are the titles by Simon Beckett, Frank Schätzing, Michael Robotham or Sebastian Fitzek.

Mixed forms between crime novel and thriller

Mixed forms between crime thriller and thriller can occur, for example, when the classic solving of a crime provokes unexpected danger, which possibly leads the investigators to their psychological and physical limits. Or when the threat to a larger group of people, such as an entire city, becomes life-threatening. The boundaries are fluid and opinions vary as to which genre dominates in each novel.

If you're a debut author writing your first crime or thriller, it's a good idea to stick to one genre. If you mix genres, you could lose the thread, mix too many plot lines and get bogged down. Suspense fiction is a demanding genre: your job is not only to build suspense, but also to sustain it. You have to develop intelligent plots that surprise or mislead the reader.

Should you want to combine both genres, it helps to include that in the subtitle, book description, and the Blurb to make it clear. Otherwise, classification into a genre is made more difficult and can lead to unclear classifications in the book trade. For example, phrases like "How an environmental crime becomes a horror scenario for an entire city" or "A detective story with thriller effects" help.


Suspense fiction is a challenging genre where it never hurts to keep pausing, reading the draft so far and checking the logic of the plot. For this, the snowflake method or a Arc of suspense be helpful.

Writing a suspenseful mystery or thriller that has neither flaws in logic nor moments of tension is not to be underestimated. More than with any other genre, this is true: The more and more intensively you read suspense literature yourself, the more experienced you will become and the better you will be able to develop ideas and build suspense.


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