Ever since I picked up my first Nancy Drew when I still rode a dinosaur to school, I have loved mysteries. Wilkie Collins, Moonstone was one of my first after Nancy. Soon, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Ellery Queen, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie joined the party. In high school, noir fascinated me, Raymond Chandler, specifically. Later, I developed a love for thrillers and suspense novels which share common factors, crime, tight plotting, but are uniquely different as well. In suspense/thriller the point is not usually whodunnit but will they get away with doing it?
Edgar Allan Poe introduced me to horror in print and Alfred Hitchcock scared me silly with his films. My favorite horror story doesn’t lean on blood and gore or serial killers but takes me to a dark place in my heart. That place where all humans can go when pushed to the limits of their endurance, that breaking point. For me too many times horror hinges on the visual gore or the one-upmanship of being more far out than the one that came before. I love horror that is all the more scary for its understatement. The horror that slips up behind you, when the world appears completely normal and at peace, and guts you in seconds. A good example of this for me is Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery.
Mystery stories are tightly plotted, and one of the attractions for me. There are specific rules of this genre that the writer must adhere to in order to “play fair.” As a reader, I like this. Tropes of this genre are well-known; the murder weapon, clues, red herrings, the now interesting CSI effect – follow the DNA, the crusty detective or cop, the fem fatale, the gathering of the potential perps for the big “reveal”. Huge rule in mystery, if you draw emphasis to a scarf on page ten, you better plan on strangling somebody with it by page 30.
Horror stories include tropes such as the mad scientist, the ‘invention’ that overcomes the master, monsters and creatures of our nightmares. Horror has the quality of being able to manipulate the reader into believing that his own fears are coming to life. It can elicit the same physical reactions as experiencing it in reality. For me horror has to walk a fine line to avoid missing the suspension of disbelief. Today’s horror films have disillusioned my sons because they find them funnier than scary. This is the risk with horror. When you go too far, the reader or viewer disengages.
All writing requires attention to detail and foresight. Mystery, however, requires more planning than some genres if you hope to have 2 + 2 add up to the required 4 at the end. Horror, I believe, requires insight into a place few people want to go. If the worst were to happen, what am I capable of? The answer to that question, when pursued honestly, is horrific.
Talking genre is a lot of fun. Be sure to check out Natasha’s post on the paranormal genre here. L.L. McKinney’s post on Sci-Fi and Fantasy can be found on Tangynt. And pop over to Novel Clique to take a poll on genre.
What are your favorite tropes for mystery? Horror?