Thrillers v. Suspense

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Nov 19 2014

You would think that after 20+ years in this business I would have all the answers. Well there are days when I definitely still feel like I have more questions than answers. One of those questions is how do you define the difference between thrillers and suspense. I tend to think that I like suspense more than I like thrillers and I think I know what the difference is, but when asked by writers to define them I’m not sure I know exactly how to do that. I guess I’m not sure the answer is always cut and dry.

So today I’m asking you. How do you define the two?


13 responses to “Thrillers v. Suspense”

  1. In my mind, the difference is in the degree of action and threat. A suspense is lower level, more drama driven. A thriller has higher stakes and more action.

    It's sort of like the old explanation about the difference between erotic and kinky. Erotic is using a feather; kinky is using the whole chicken.

  2. Avatar KrisM says:

    Hi Jessica,

    Based on my research, I found the main differences between these two subgenres are the pacing and the level of stakes.

    Thrillers tend to be high octane with global stakes (governments, worlds, change of power.

    Suspense is slower paced (though still intense) with the stakes at a more personal level.

    I found this "Suspense vs. Thrillers" blog post by Stacy Green to be insightful:

    Am interested to follow your other blog post comments as well.


  3. Avatar says:

    And thrillers are generally focused on affairs of state or espionage, quite often in international settings. I sometimes have a had time differentiating, and I'm a librarian whose chief responsibility is picking items for 150 or so patrons a month who can't physicall visit a library. I should know this!!!

    Thanks for making me think about this. It's helped clarify it in my own mind.

  4. Avatar AJ Blythe says:

    I've always thought of thrillers as stories where you know the bad guy (have their pov etc) while suspense you don't.

  5. Avatar MV says:

    For me I always thought of Thrillers as more action, such as stories that deal with mystery, add in a few deaths or murder scenes,. Suspense is more of an emotion I get when reading a book. Make sense?

  6. Avatar Lurking Leo says:

    Suspense is walking back and forth past the Christmas tree with a present under it. The present has your name on it and it sits there for a full week before christmas.

    A thriller is spending that week watching presents pile up and not knowing who they're for.

  7. Avatar AJ Blythe says:

    @LurkingLeo *Love* that analogy!

  8. Avatar jfaust says:

    Thank you everyone for your thoughts. I think you all, in some way or another, mirror my thinking. I think of international, espionage and big stakes with thriller. With suspense I think of it being on a more personal level and more emotional. I'm not sure I ever thought of it in terms of pacing, but I guess that's possible too.

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