Mystery...Romance...Sci Fi...Humor... The joy of writing fiction - meeting brand new people in places that don't yet exist.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sub-genres - Now There's a Mystery

Like a lot of writers, I belong to several writing groups that maintain e-mail lists for exchanging information, questions, support, etc.  I have one that falls under the parent organization Sisters in Crime (mystery writers) and one whose mama-ship is Romance Writers of America - because sometimes it's a thin line between a "mystery with a strong romantic element" and a "romantic suspense".

The other day, a member of the mystery group posed a question about mystery sub-genres, asking for a list and some definitions.  Oddly enough, there wasn't the usual stream of responses.  In fact, there weren't any.  That struck my as odd.  In Romance, things seem clearer.  Pretty much every other chapter of RWA holds an annual writing contest and they all use the same sub categories:

Romantic Suspense
Young Adult
Single Title

So what about mysteries?  I did a little online digging and came up with these (all were on at least three of the many lists I found):
Amateur Detective
Classic Whodunit
Comic (Bumbling Detective)
Courtroom Drama
Dark Thriller
Hard-boiled (noir)
Heists and Capers
Inverted (howdunit)
Locked Room
Police Procedural
Private Detective
Psychological Suspense
Woman/Child in Jeopardy

Wow.  That's quite a list.  And I imagine a lot of mysteries have elements of more than one category, right?  So what difference does it make?  Well, the problem comes when the author is trying to describe a book to an agent or an agent to a publisher or a publisher to a bookseller or a bookseller to a buyer.  They all have to answer one question, "What is it?" 

And the answer is supposed to fit someplace on that lovely list.

Oh.  Well, it's a Paranormal Private Detective Thriller with a Romantic Woman in Jeopardy.  Sort of.  I guess.

Think about some of your favorite mysteries.  Where would they fit on the list?  Would they fit somewhere on that list?  I'll bet you have some that do and others that need a description like the one in the paragraph above.  Can you share an example of a multi-sub-genre mystery you've enjoyed?

As a writer, do you try to write to a sub-genre/category?  As a reader, do you choose books based on that sort of label?

Note:  Follow up to my Monday post - as I write this, we're in the middle of another torrential downpour.  Still on target to break the record for the wettest April ever.

I'm currently enjoying: Murder on the Mind by L.L. Bartlett  (I could have finished this last night but my grandson started playing with my Nook, got caught up in the story, and wouldn't give it back to me.)

Groaner of the Day: A linguistics professor was lecturing to his class one day. "In English," he said, "a double negative forms a positive. In some languages though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However," he pointed out, "there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative."

A voice from the back of the room piped up "Yeah, right."


Gregg said...

not being a writer I have a hard time relating. But I like a good mystery, murder who dun-it. I pefer non-fiction however. I haven't read a fiction work in probably 15 years.

Gregg Metcalf
Colossians 1:28-29

Gospel-driven Disciples

Maria Zannini said...

First off: I LOVE the groaner. Perfect!

Ref: rain
Sorry you're still getting the wet stuff. We're mostly getting hail and high winds. Might be time to look at those ark plans. :)

Ref: subgenres
I don't deliberately write to a subgenre. I write the story and then figure out what its main angle is so I know how to describe it to others.

Probably not the easiest way to do things, but that's how mine end up.

Ref: grandson
LOL. Sounds like someone is going to be getting his own Nook before too long.

GigglesandGuns said...

At our local Border's the big names -- King, Patterson, Connelly and Christie -- have sections of their own. I've learned that if it not a new release I should go directly to the information computer or I'll be looking all day.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Aw Gregg, as a fiction writer, you're breaking my heart.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Maria loves a groaner!!! Maria loves a groaner!! I knew it would happen someday.

Ref: the rain, I'm an optimist. Just buying water wings.

I can't write to the subgenre either. Just doesn't work out that way.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Mary - I think the big guns are their own sub-genre. "What is it?" "It's a Patterson."

MengleOh67 said...

It's still pounding down the rain here too Linda... I'm soooo ready for some dry weather!

Two of my favorite Mystery subgenre writers actually started out as romance writers. Kay Hooper and Iris Johansen both got their start in Harlequin romance type novels and both now write books that combine any number of the mystery subgenres. They are both fabulous story crafters and both have series novels that I absolutely crave. If you've never read any of their stuff definitely check them out.

Dru said...

I like mysteries, cozies, romantic suspense and thrillers.

WOW, Maria like the groaner, so did I.

I hope the rain as stopped.

I'm at Malice and can't wait to meet some of the new authors I've been reading.

Liz Fichera said...

I've never tried to fit into a particular genre. All of mine have been crossovers, to some extent--e.g. historical fantasy, contemporary fantasy, etc. young adult historical fantasy...

I say write the story; then worry about the genre.

Linda Leszczuk said...

MB - that's funny. The first book I wrote was a romance. It was awful but it was a romance. Hopefully I'll do better in mysteries.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Dru - Hope you're having a wonderful time at Malice. Wish I could be there.

Linda Leszczuk said...

Liz - that's pretty much what I'm doing but all these silly little categories make me crazy. Why can't we just have one called "good story"?