Monday, June 11, 2012

Mystery Sub-genres - Which Comes First

Writers have to know the genre or sub-genre of their story. Whether traditionally published and bookstore bound, or self-published e-book, sooner or later, someone is going to ask, “What kind of book is it?” And that’s genre.

Most genres today have a lengthy set of sub-genres. Today I’m going to focus on mysteries. I looked at lists of mystery sub-genres from a half-dozen sources and came up with over thirty. The ones that appeared on most or all of the lists included:

• Cozy and its cousin, the Amateur Detective
• Classic Whodunit
• Heists and Capers
• Historical
• Medical and Legal (Courtroom)
• Police Procedural
• Private Eye, including the darker side Noir
• Romantic
• Suspense and Thrillers, including Techno-thrillers
• Spies and Espionage

And most included mention of mixed genres, such as Mystery mixed with Sci Fi, Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, etc.

Suspense and Thriller are also considered genres in their own right with many of the same sub-genres as given for mysteries. The same is true for Crime Fiction.

Lists and definitions for oodles of sub-genres are easy to find. Take any mystery/suspense story and it will probably fall under one or more of those listed above. It’s the “more” that can cause a problem. What I did not find in my search of sub-genres was a hierarchy. Which sub-genre takes precedence of another?

Is a story about a private eye and a CIA agent who solve a murder while falling in love a Private Eye/Spy/Whodunit/Romantic Mystery? What about a spine-tingling thriller with a cop as the main character – Thriller or Police Procedural?

Obviously, some stories are easy to define. Others not so much. What do you think?

For writers - Is there a written or unwritten hierarchy for defining genres/sub-genres? Should there be?
For readers, how defined do you want the genre of a book to be before you buy?

Groaner of the Day:  (Just a short one today.)  The butcher backed into the meat grinder and got a little behind in his work.


39 comments:

Dru said...

I like that if I want to read a cozy, I know what I'm going to get; if crime fiction, hard-boiled, romantic suspense, humorous mysteries. There's little chance to be upset because the book you picked up was not represented in what you wanted.

Linda G. said...

As a reader, I do like to know what I'm getting when I buy a book.

As a writer, it's harder to define what I write. We're calling it "light urban fantasy" -- but there's humor, romance, mystery, and paranormal elements. Kind of a hodge-podge, really, but I suppose the publisher labels a book whatever they think will sell it best.

Jessica R. Patch said...

I write for the CBA and my books fall into the romantic suspense category and while they are suspenseful, they're really mysteries, police procedural. You never know who the murderer is, unlike thrillers and suspense--which you generally do. But they lump them all into rom sus. Weird huh?

Liz Fichera said...

I think editors/agents are looking for those books that cross/mix genres. That seems to be the "in" thing right now. But the hook has to be compelling. That hasn't changed.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I'm not a mystery reader so I had no idea there were so many genres.

Tara Tyler said...

mine is a thriller, adventure, romantic comedy set in the near future...
an editor said to just call it a thriller when i pitch, since thats the meat of it =)

Tara Tyler said...

ps, i gave you an award & thanks for the commentary!

LD Masterson said...

Dru - From what I came up with, Cozy as a sub-genre tends to trump others because there are such fixed rules for a Cozy that there's less crossover. Do you find this to be true?

LD Masterson said...

Linda G. - I like that. You just invented your own sub-genre.

Julie Dao said...

I definitely want to know at least the major genre of the book I'm about to read or buy. I'm not so stringent on the sub-genres :) And your post just put me in the mood for a good ol' classic whodunnit. No one writes it better than Agatha Christie!

LD Masterson said...

Jessica - So I guess the heirarchy there is Romantic Suspense trumps all the others. Interesting. And, yeah, a bit weird.

LD Masterson said...

Liz - I've heard that cross-genre books are in but labeling or describing the mixes still seems to be a challenge.

LD Masterson said...

Diane - Mind-boggling, isn't it. I think Romance has even more.

LD Masterson said...

Tara - Ah, so Thriller trumps the others for pitching.

Maria Zannini said...

When it comes to describing your own book you have to go with the main core of the genre and then 'season' it.

For example, you might call yours a spy mystery with romantic elements. Every agent and editor will know exactly what that means. And readers know they will get a mystery with a romance.

LD Masterson said...

Tara - Hey, thanks for the award. I'll be over later. (See next comment.)

LD Masterson said...

Note to everyone - Did you know the swim/dive team practices go on even in the rain as long as there's no thunder or lightning? I have 'take grandson to practice' duty today and I'm trying to work on my laptop under a very small shelter with limited wi-fi so if I don't visit you in a timely manner this morning, please bear with me.

Jessica R. Patch said...

I forgot!!! I tagged you on my blog today! :)

LD Masterson said...

Julie - Can't go wrong with Agatha.

LD Masterson said...

Maria - I've run across some great mixes that would require listing the whole recipe. :-)

LD Masterson said...

Jessisa - Thanks! I'm still moving slow but I'll be by to visit you.

Sarah Allen said...

Great list, very helpful breakdown. And love the groaner :)

Sarah Allen
(my creative writing blog)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I enjoy some thrillers and detective books. Preston and Child's Agent Pendergast series would fall under those descriptions. With a touch of horror of course.

Lydia Kang said...

If I was going to write a mystery, I'd definitely try the medical one, but I actually don't know how to write a mystery at all!

Carol Kilgore said...

Ouch!

This is a great post. I write a genre blend. In Name Only is more suspense than mystery. There's a love story, but it isn't a romance. There's also some humor sprinkled in. And there are crimes.

So I say I write Crime Fiction with a Kiss.

Cate Masters said...

I tend to disagree. Some of my favorite authors are those whose stories defy neat labeling - Margaret Atwood and Ray Bradbury to name two of the more famous writers. I think so long as you have a great blurb that makes it clear whether the story includes other genre elements, it's great to mash genres.

Jemi Fraser said...

There are so many subgenres! I've always loved mysteries - and I enjoy many of the subs. As a writer & a reader I don't mind books that bend that genre line at all. Those blends are sometimes a lot of fun!

LD Masterson said...

Sarah - Glad you found it useful.
(And thanks for noticing the roaner. It's been mostly overlooked today.)

LD Masterson said...

Alex - Of course.

LD Masterson said...

Lydia - You should give it a try. You might enjoy it.

LD Masterson said...

Carol - Was that "Ouch!" aimed at my litte groaner? :-)

And I see you've also defined your own sub-genre.

LD Masterson said...

Cate - I'm all for mashing genres. I do it myself. But I keep running into people who say a book has to fit a pre-set category. I like the fact that these comments say it isn't necessarily so.

LD Masterson said...

Jemi - I think the next time someone tells me a mystery/suspense has to fit in a certain sub-genre, I'll just point to the comments that have been left here.

Gregg said...

It is interesting that you mention genre. When interpreting Scripture it is helpful to determine the genre of the writing being considered since certain rules of interpretation apply to certain genres.

Maryann Miller said...

The groaner is really a bad one today. LOL

Regarding the genres, I really do wish there was not so much mixing of genres as there is now. I know some writers are having a ball doing paranormal romantic suspense mystery, but that all boggles this mind. Maybe I just need to broaden my reading tastes. LOL

And I guess in this day of digital publishing, one does not have to worry so much about what shelf the book will go on if it has all those elements. On Amazon and the other e-book sites, the books can be tagged with all those. So maybe it's a good thing?

Karin said...

Why am I having problems publishing my comments? Last couple did not show up. Will try again.

I love to read mysteries but try not to over-think them. Some are great, some not so much. Seems to work for me. Don't know if I would find more great ones if I refine my searches with more detailed genre.

Loved the groaner.

Karin

LD Masterson said...

Gregg - Interesting. I've never thought of genre in terms of the Bible.

LD Masterson said...

Maryann - I don't mind read a mixed genre story but describing them can be a whole different matter. It saddens me that wondering what shelf a book will go on in a bookstore may someday not be an issue.

LD Masterson said...

Karin - Sorry Blogger was fighting you. It does that to me sometimes, too.

As someone else mentioned - a really good story will work no matter what genre, sub-genre, or combiniation of genres it is.