What A Mystery
So, in continuing our discussion of genre structure we’ve hit mystery, which is almost as much of a problem as science fiction/fantasy.
I’m not sure why these two genres have moved off so far into different structures, except that for a long time they were very popular and everyone read them. But then why hasn’t romance done that? And it hasn’t. Other than certain touch points like one will have explicit blow by blow (eh) sex and the other not the structure of all romances is fairly similar. (You need a little more scene setting in historical, but that’s about it.)
I don’t know. All I know is that everything from thrillers to cozies gets shoved under mystery, so we’re going to spend a while going over each of the subgenres. We’ll have to do the same for sf/f, so bear with me.
So, in this post I’m going to identify various subgenres (and will probably miss some) by their central, most obvious characteristic, then leave the detailed structure to do one by one or two by two in future posts. I’ll inevitably forget one or two subgenres, so please, people, remind me.
There is a big menace on the loose. This can be a country or a person. Someone is seriously endangered by this. It’s kind of like tracking the hunt from the pov of the deer and hoping the deer wins.
It has sub genres:
Women in Peril, often a romance subgenre. The woman is the one in peril. She might or might not be involved with the detective trying to save her. It might also be a woman detective who has a past of a similar death in her family. These often end badly, but not when they’re part of romance, obviously.
International espionage – I don’t need to explain this, right?
It can overlap with scientific thriller or police procedural.
This is the structure most often ported outside the genre, like to science fiction, particularly hard science fiction.
Your main characters are police, and it aims to be “realistic”. It’s of course not realistic, because reality includes a lot of boring things. The police are USUALLY the good guys. Crimes get solved. Mood is often brutal or dingy.
it has subgenres. They’re not VERY distinct, unlike Thriller’s.
Female police detective – often comes with a lot of psychological thriller elements, in that the vulnerability of the female officer translates to elements of WIP.
Noir – Often historical.
Almost cozy – while the police procedural is there, it backs off that and into the psychological makeup of the police officer.
Technical – think CSI. this is where we become obsessed about pain transfer and particles in a living room.
The characters and their relationships are more important than the crime. Or at least that’s how you solve the crime. Derided by … won’t say idiots… for not being realistic (look, bub, it’s fiction) it’s the most popular type of mystery. Attempts to eliminate it result in its splitting off into things like craft mysteries.
It has subgenres. Oh, boy, does it ever:
Romance- First and foremost, it’s often found as a subplot in romance. It also usually HAS a romance subplot. Agatha Christie the grandmama of the genre had detectives who tried to help couples.
Woman in Peril and ALMOST romance – Any of Patricia Wentworth’s books. The emphasis is more on the mystery/peril than the romance, but it’s a dang close call.
Craft mystery – this is what happened when they tried to stop publishing cozies for being unrealistic (!) It just became craft mysteries because the “craft knowledge allows the amateur to solve the murder.” Yeah. And I have some beach front property in florida.
Profession mystery – Carolyn Hart and her booksellers mysteries is an example, but there’s mysteries with hotels, restaurants and various stores. I know there were programmer mysteries, at one type, wonder if there still are.
Location mystery – Can’t go on vacation? Want to live with the rich and famous? Well, there’s Caribbean mysteries, and various college mysteries, and Hollywood mysteries.
Under this perhaps we should slip Historical Mysteries. They’re a location and a time, and they have a structure of their own. There is also some wisdom in picking location and time.
Buddy mysteries – dynamic duos can feature in any kind of mystery, but there is a particular kind of cozy people will tell you aren’t cozies, like say Nero Wolf Mysteries. I mean, the characters are MEN and one even gets in fights. But if you look at the structure they’re cozies. This dynamic duo thing even has a structure of its own, both re: the relationship of the two characters, and their roles. They don’t need to be same sex or buddies. Agatha Christie used it for Tommy and Tuppence, a married couple. And I arguably used it for the Musketeer Mysteries, an historical. All the same, because of the variation of structure called for, it should be covered on its own.
Psychological mysteries – often focus more on the crime than the solution and creates a “certainty” with its psychological “tech” than is normally warranted by a soft science. I was nonetheless addicted to these as a kid. Like the Police Procedural, the hard part is seeming “realistic.”
YA Mysteries – can be any of the other types, but the protagonists are children, the crime is rarely a murder, and there’s a certain structure to them.
Mystery short stories – These are a completely different genre, in that just being about a crime is enough. There need not be a solution. In such they often become “crime and punishment” (or lack thereof) morality ( or lack thereof) plays.
Mystery adjacent – True crime. Stories based on true crimes, often owe more to psychological mysteries than acknowledged.