Thriller Sub-Genres

suspense genreSo far this week we’ve looked at fantasy and science fiction sub-genres, but since not everyone loves speculative fiction as much as I do, I’m going to take you through thriller sub-genres today and mystery sub-genres tomorrow.

Espionage – Also called spy fiction, espionage is the land of the CIA, assassins, secret agents, and James Bond. If you’re writing something like Robert Ludlum’s Bourne books or you want to be the next John La Carre or Alan Furst, you’re probably working on an espionage novel. They’re often set during World War II or the Cold War, but that focus may now be shifting to more modern settings as well.

Medical Thriller – Your POV character in a medical thriller is going to be employed in the medical field (e.g. a doctor, a medical examiner) or be closely tied to a hospital setting. This type of thriller is a race to uncover or fix a deadly medical situation–organ black markets, an out-of-control virus, patients falling in mysterious comas, etc.

Psychological Thriller – These are battles of the mind and the wits. They’re often dark and focus more on emotional trauma to the characters than physical trauma. Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris and Along Came a Spider by James Patterson would both be categorized as psychological thrillers.

Legal Thriller – Similar to medical thrillers, the POV character in a legal thriller is an attorney. The story centers around a legal dilemma or courtroom drama. John Grisham’s name is almost synonymous with legal thrillers.

Historical Thriller – If you set your thriller prior to around 1960, you’re likely going to fall into the historical thriller sub-genre. Readers of this sub-genre expect historical accuracy and engaging details as well as a fast-paced read. Good historical thrillers can be especially challenging to write due to the need to evoke a rich historical atmosphere without slowing down the story.

Techno Thriller – The most powerful technology of today has fallen into the wrong hands, and it’s up to your main character to get it back or destroy it. Ever read a Tom Clancy book? Then you’ve read a techno thriller.

Military Thriller – Military thrillers have a lot in common with techno thrillers, but instead of focusing on technology, they focus on military objectives. Your main character in a military thriller is likely to be a member of the military (no shock there). Both techno thrillers and military thrillers are often global in their scope.

Supernatural Thriller – Supernatural thrillers blend the expected fast-moving suspense plot with some paranormal or other worldly element. Your main character might be a psychic or see ghosts.

Don’t forget to check out Lisa’s overview post on genres and sub-genres that started it all.

Thrillers are my second love (after speculative fiction). What’s your favorite genre? Do you ever read outside of it?

Marcy

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

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6 comments on “Thriller Sub-Genres

  1. Hi Marcy,
    Nice post, I’m a softy for a good psychological thriller. Especially those with a few good plot twists to keep you guessing. I refer to all the rest: techno, military, and legal as “boy books” with mostly male readers. Good work.

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  4. I love psychological thrillers. Silence of the Lambs is one of my favorite books. I really enjoy getting into the mind of the bad guy, especially when they’re as well written as Hannibal. Historical thrillers are great, too, because I love history, and I’ve read some amazing books that really blended fact and fiction well.

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