The Mystery of Mysteries: Part 2

QuestionsIn last month’s post, I described how to pay attention to genre elements when writing a novel. Certainly I don’t mean to imply there are actual rules for how to write mysteries. I think the number of mystery subgenres is evidence enough of that!

And just how many mystery subgenres are there? Four. No, no, thirteen. No, I count fourteen. It’s obvious there are twenty-one mystery subgenres. Huh? Yep. There is no definitive answer. But how can that be?

The number of mystery subgenres depends upon who is counting, and how they count. Those inclined to analyze mystery subgenres down to the gnat’s derriere come up with more than those who lump categories with like characteristics together.

The blogger who says four calls the subgenres: cozies, soft-boiled, hard-boiled, and police procedurals. The blogger who lists 21 separates series mysteries from doctor mysteries from furry sleuths, and so on.

So what’s a writer to do? Does it really matter how many subgenres there are? Well, back in the day, it did matter. Libraries and bookstores relied on a reference source that told them where to shelve a book dependent upon the subgenre’s descriptors provided by publishers. And those descriptors were prescribed by the reference source. Choose from their list, and everybody knew where to put your book.

Unsurprisingly, Amazon (and other on-line booksellers) upended that system. If you go to Amazon to find my culinary mystery, Mission Impastable, you find several increasingly small subcategories like: Books>Mystery, Thriller & Suspense>Mystery>Cozy>Culinary. On-line booksellers want to help you find the book you want. They’ll subcategorize as much as an author wants (you tell them the descriptors).

So how many mystery subgenres are there? It probably depends on how many authors are creating newer sub genre headers.

But for the purposes of our upcoming discussions, I am going to declare, for this post, that there are Seven Subgenres of Mystery. Each month I will describe the elements of one type and how to write a mystery that fits it.

My categories are: Traditional, Cozies, Urban Fantasy/Steampunk, Capers, Private Investigator, Police Procedurals, and True Crime. Within each of these categories are subcategories with their own characteristics. Won’t this be fun?

But before we launch into the Seven Subgenres of Mystery series, let me remind you that a mystery doesn’t have to have a murder. Most do, that’s true, because, as with all novels, you want the stakes high. And life and death are very high stakes. But, if all mysteries were murders we wouldn’t need to use the descriptor “murder mystery”.

A mystery is, at heart, a puzzle to be solved. Not always a crime, but usually. Not always a murder, but very often. Who did what, when, how, and why is the task a mystery solves.

You may already know what kind of mystery you want to write. Terrific! Go for it!

But if you are unsure still, here’s some homework to get you prepped:
1) What kind of sleuth interests you most? (capable amateur, bumbling amateur, capable professional, bumbling professional, or other)
2) What are your sleuth’s special abilities/talent? Limitations that might interfere with crime solving?
3) What kinds of crimes interest you most? (murder, theft, medical, off-world, historical anomaly, kidnapping, dark psychological, or other)
4) Where would you like to set your mystery? (small town, rural, big city)

Once you have those elements in mind, writing the mystery becomes a matter of organizing it all in a logical fashion so that the reader can solve the mystery along with the sleuth.

Author: Sharon Arthur Moore

Sharon Arthur Moore is an intrepid cook, who has lived in every region of the country except the Pacific Northwest and loved every single one of them.

We love comments and questions.