The Suspense Novel’s Fifteen-Page Advantage
All those books you find at Amazon books – to include Amazon’s small ocean of Kindle ebooks — fall into categories called genres. Mostly these seem established by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG). BISG is sponsored by the industry’s major players, among them the Authors’ Guild; the largest publishing companies; and big retailers like Barnes & Noble or like Amazon, itself.
As a practical matter — which I suspect at least a few English faculty resent — BISG, not Academe, defines the genres of American literature. BISG gives each genre a name, which BISG calls the genre’s “BISAC category.”
In writing novels, I encounter BISAC categories sporadically. I then seem to encounter gaps or overlap among these categories, but I no longer expect a perfect genre classification scheme. I remind myself that even the most familiar, most basic of classification schemes present challenges. Northern Texas and southern Oklahoma, for example, look a lot alike regardless of wherever their common border lies. Similar prairies are not easily distinguished.
Just as parts of Texas and Oklahoma can look alike, so can the thriller genre and suspense novel genres. The difference for these genres, in my humble opinion, seems one of degree. If the main characters are usually ten or fewer pages away from possible disaster, one has a thriller. Place the main characters twenty-five pages from doom, and one has a suspense novel. So, for these two genres, the distinction comes down to ten pages versus twenty-five pages. Consider that Randall Jarmon’s touchstone for suspense novels, and expect some English faculty to cringe.
Next, if the suspense novelist has an extra fifteen pages between dire calamities, how might those pages be used?
Well, for starters, one could explore the setting, further develop characters, launch a subplot, or provide backstory. Also, one could build up tension for an even better encounter with whatever grave danger lurks fifteen pages ahead.
Please especially notice this last possibility’s splendid irony: More pages could produce better adventure. The good suspense story’s thrills, given the greater prelude each time, could become bigger — and more credible — than those in a good thriller.
The flexibility one gets from these fifteen extra pages keeps me writing for the suspense genre rather than for the thriller genre. For me, these fifteen pages do much to create the very special category my tiny firm, MIKVELK Publishing, LLC, calls “escape reading for thinkers.” (My earlier post, “Three-Plane Test for a Good Novel” offers further perspective.)
Escape reading for thinkers, alas, will not be one of those official, BISG-sanctioned genres that you can search for separately on Amazon.com. However, you can find it right away at www.randalljarmon.com.