A lot of interesting points came out of this discussion. I've been mulling over two of them.
1. The distinction between mysteries and thrillers. Sometimes these terms get used interchangeably. For books that have elements of both genres (such as Laura Ellen's BLIND SPOT), using both terms to describe them is fine. Many books, though, fall firmly in one genre or another, and readers may be misled by the wrong label. For example, sometimes my book, TOKYO HEIST, is described as a thriller. While it has its share of danger and thrilling moments, I would call it a mystery. A puzzle drives the plot. In the Twitter chat, we defined mystery as a story that revolves around a puzzle to be solved, and a thriller as a story focused on immediate, pressing dangers. Both mysteries and thrillers have tension, but problem-solving drives the tension in mystery and action/danger (or psychological suspense) drives the tension in thrillers.
2. Readers' expectations of mysteries and thrillers. We talked a lot about Nancy Drew (I admit we weren't exactly kind to her) and how YA/MG mysteries today have changed from the classic sleuthing stories. Technology, some of us felt, was a big factor. As Kristen Kittscher pointed out on this blog a few weeks ago ("Murder, She Blogged"), technology has totally changed investigative work in real life and in fiction.
It seems that it's no longer satisfying -- it may even be laughable -- to have a series with a character who just bounces from adventure to adventure. We now expect:
- More character depth
- More plot twists and turns
- More action
- More details
- Faster/better pacing
- Some degree of realism
- Emotional impact
Whew. Much as I tend to agree with all this, I find myself missing Nancy a little. Life seemed simpler then. Well, mystery writing did, anyway.
Are any of these criteria for modern-day mysteries at odds? Can we have "better pacing" and "more action" while still reaching for more character depth and realism than a Nancy Drew type of sleuth? Character development does sometimes get sacrificed a bit to service plot or pace in mystery -- can we really have it all?
YA author A.C. Gaughen suggested, towards the end of the Twitter chat, that "with more books, more authors, more competition, the bar gets raised." Readers don't just want a good mystery; they want "GOOD FICTION."
Are mysteries and/or thrillers harder to write than ever? Is the bar raising because there are so many being published? Do we really expect mysteries/thrillers to have it all these days? (Even in middle grade/young adult markets, where word counts tend to be shorter?) How can mystery/thriller writers overcome the potential paralysis of trying to write the mystery/thriller that Has It All?
What do you think? What do you expect from YA/MG mysteries and/or thrillers? What would you like to see more of -- or less of?
[PS - Have you entered this week's great giveaway yet? No? There's still time to win a signed copy of the just-released DOUBLE VISION by our own F.T. Bradley! Check out her great interview with W.H. Beck from Tuesday; the contest entry form is right below it. Oh - and how cool is it to have two initials before your last name? It just occurred to me that F.T. and two other blog members do this. I think I'm gong to declare a Double Initial Day in honor of DOUBLE VISION!]
TOKYO HEIST (Viking/Penguin, published June 2012) is her first novel.