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Defining Genre

Mysteries, Thrillers and Horror Fiction: A Comparison







To engage both the hero and the reader in solving a puzzle (often a crime)

To challenge the hero and excite the witnessing reader through a contest of wills with the villain.

To pit a vulnerable hero against a dangerous threat, thrilling the reader as they contemplate realistic danger and their own fear.

To terrify the hero and horrify the reader through the examination of the darkest parts of human nature, including the imagined.

Reader Role

To solve puzzle with the investigating hero.

To follow hero as they learn about and address apparent danger.  

To emotionally share in the hero's fears and responses to danger.

To recognize shared fears and feel the terror experienced by the hero at a primal level.



An investigator who uncovers/evaluates clues, eliminates suspects and ultimately solves a puzzle, resulting in justice. The hero possesses a great mind and a fascination with human nature. 

A morally driven individual who is engaged in a contest of wills with the villain. Both the danger and injustice are apparent and it is the hero's goal to restore balance.

A psychologically and/or physically vulnerable hero who finds himself in "terrible trouble." Faces constant fear/tension as he tries to overcome the threat.

Rules do not apply. The central character is often an every day person facing extraordinary or supernatural threats. However, the protagonist and antagonist may be one and the same. 


Hidden from both hero and reader, the antagonist is a deceiver who has engaged in a "cover up" to escape justice.

An often brilliant and malevolent character, the criminal causes moral imbalance through his actions. He is generally known to the reader from the outset and eventually revealed to the hero. 

The antagonist is a known threat (human or event) that incites fear and danger. Human threats often targets the hero and knows his weaknesses. Threatening events are largely outside of the hero's control.

The antagonist is real or supernatural, derived from the author's (and sometimes the hero's) imagination. He poses a grave threat to the hero and others and is difficult to avoid/overcome.


Often tranquil places and pacing, allowing investigator time to think.

Often urban, though anywhere real is possible.

Danger ridden settings in the real world.

Creepy real world or nightmarish realms.


Cozy, Amateur Sleuth, Detective, Historical,

Procedural (Police, Forensics, Legal, Medical)

Epic (political or environmental catasotrophes facing whole communities, such as terrorism) or Psychological (threat deliberately targets the individual hero).

Gothic, Hauntings, Surreal, Satanic, Supernatural (monters, demons, zombies, etc.)



Will they be caught?

What will they do?

Will it get them?



REVEALS:  focus on solving a puzzle results in many reveals of information throughout the book.

REVERSALS:  focus on the battle between pro/antagonists results in multiple reversals. 

ACTION: Psychological tension around events is fast-paced and adrenaline inducing.

EXTREMES: settings, circumstances, beings, happenings play on the reader's own fears and anxieties.



Library Information and Media Center - Monona Grove High School - Monona, Wisconsin

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