Thursday, February 28, 2013

How do you categorize your thriller?

I'd like to take a moment to call your attention to the blog post labels on the left hand side of this page.  I try to categorize blog posts in ways that make sense so that readers can find the ones that interest them.  You'll recognize some of these labels in the little dictionary I've written here.  In the below post, I attempt to define thriller sub-genres as I see them, although I'm finding they're a lot like porn - easier to recognize than to describe.  I'll also be the first to say that most good thrillers fall into more than one sub-genre.  Please feel free to weigh in.  What do you read?  What do you write?  What do you want to see more of?  And, what am I missing?  

Action Thriller
Guys love these for the guns and explosions.  Women will usually tolerate the violence for the (almost always) male protagonist.

Conspiracy Thriller
The protagonist uncovers something that someone - or lots of someones - want them to stay out of.

Crime Thriller
Bad guy is frequently a serial killer.  Good guy is frequently a cop or FBI agent.

Disaster Thriller
Someone is trying to destroy the world.

Eco Thriller
The world is about to self-destruct.

Erotic Thriller
Thriller with lots of sex in between (or during) the action.

Historical Thriller
At least part of this book does not take place in the present (even if the "past" occurs as distant flashbacks or narrative).

Legal Thriller
The hero of the story is - huh?  A lawyer?

Medical Thriller
These range from biological terror stories to stories of evil doctors setting out to genetically produce something that should not be.

Mystery Thriller
These have the pace and ticking time bomb of a thriller, but the protagonist also has something to solve.  Frequently a crime.  Frequently, specifically, a murder.

Political Thriller
The government may be in trouble, or they may be the source of the trouble.

Psychological Thriller
The serial killer comes to mind again. The bad guy is often an evil genius who is smarter than the good guy in every way, until the last scene in which the good guy miraculously wises up.

Religious Thriller
Poor, poor Catholic Church. What has Dan Brown done to you? I'm waiting for someone to write a religious thriller about Krishnas.

Romantic Thriller
Typically two characters fall in love, while one wonders if the other will kill him or her.

Science Thriller
NOT to be confused with science fiction, a science thriller features science that is actually possible and realistic in modern times, as opposed to projected science of the future or an alternate world.

Spy Thriller
Often major overlap with conspiracy and crime thrillers. I guess the only requirement is, there must be a spy.

Supernatural/Paranormal Thriller
Any thriller that incorporates something that doesn't really exist on Planet Earth can fall here.

Techno Thriller
Similar to science thriller, but often more futuristic.

Travel Thriller
The setting is one of the most important characters in the book.  The protagonist might pursue a search that spans the globe, or the entire book might take place in a single village.  The trait that makes a travel thriller is that the location must be a location that actually exists.

And now for a fun game.  In the comments section below, please list your novel or novels and ALL subgenres they can fall into.  I'll start...


  1. The Vesuvius Isotope (book #1 of the Katrina Stone series):
    A science, historical, mystery, medical, travel thriller. To a lesser degree, a conspiracy, crime thriller.

    The Death Row Complex (book #2 of the Katrina Stone series):
    A science, mystery, medical, conspiracy, crime, disaster, political thriller. To a lesser degree, a psychological, travel thriller, if you count visiting San Quentin and the San Diego underworld of heavy metal.

  2. Great Post, Kris. I think it would be easier to say what categories my novel Soldiers Of God (The Book of Lot) does not fall into. Okay here is the long list of what I touch on.

    Action Thriller- gun shots, three airplane crashes, escaping the pursers by fleeing in a boat in the middle of a Cyclone.

    Conspiracy Thriller-An underground resort for pedophiles that is funded, backed and protected by a US Senator and guarded by his son who is a CIA employee along with former members of the KGB.

    Crime Thriller-The team tracks down a kidnapped child in Thailand leading to the discovery of the resort.

    Historical Thriller-The teams founders are three highly influential members of the US Government. The existence of the group dates back to George Washington.

    Legal Thriller-No Lawyers, but several FBI/CIA/Secret Service/Former Law Enforcement types quoting laws, ect.

    Political Thriller-The influential founders of the SOG use their contacts within the governments of the USA and Australia for achieve their goals.

    Religious Thriller-The group would consider themselves to be modern day Paladins. Representing all denominations of Christianity, they put aside the differences and focus on being literally Spiritual Warriors.

    Romantic Thriller-Two of the characters are considering leaving the group so they can get married. When we meet them, they are reconsidering their relationship when a new member of the group becomes a new love interest.

    Techno Thriller-The teams uses new technology to achieve their means. All of their weapons are non-lethal but very high tech.

    Travel Thriller-The setting for the book are West Virginia, Las Vegas, Texas, Lafayette LA, Aruba, Thailand, Malaysia, Darwin Australia.

    Hope that clears things up.

  3. Rob, your book sounds interesting. What's your timeline for releasing it?

    1. That is a great question Kris. I have no timeline at this moment. The re-write/edit is on going. The biggest problem I have is my lack of ability to get the words to work together. I am a work in progress and so is the book. Ha ha. When it is close, I will let you know.

  4. OK, I'll play. Doha 12 is an action thriller and spy thriller (although none of the characters are "spies" as such).

    I've never heard of "travel thriller" before. Thrillers in general often have continental or global reach, except for (usually) supernatural and psychological thrillers. Doha 12 has action in Tel Aviv, Beirut, Rotterdam, Modena, Los Angeles, Washington D.C., metro Philadelphia and various parts of the New York City metro area, but I wouldn't call it a "travel thriller" -- that's just where people happen to go to do their business.

    1. So I guess I'm wrong in presuming that a spy thriller has to have a spy in it haha. So then, how would you define spy thriller?

    2. I guess it depends on how you define "spy." I usually think of spies as people who are trying to either obtain secrets covertly or protect them covertly. George Smiley is a spy; Gabriel Allon is often a spy; a lot of the main characters in Alan Furst's books are spies.

      Characters like Jason Bourne and James Bond are assassins; their main schtick is to infiltrate the bad guy's lair and kill him. So it goes with the Hezbollah and Mossad teams in Doha 12.

      I'm probably way overthinking this, plus I can't come up with a decent label for "assassination thriller." (John Rain! I forgot John Rain!) Most readers lump Smiley, Bourne and Dirk Pitt into the same category. "Spy thriller" is probably as good as it gets for this category, even if it puts John Le Carre and Vince Flynn into the same niche.

  5. Lance, maybe that's because I invented the phrase :)

    I think of a "travel novel" as a novel that takes place in a cool setting (and typically makes the reader want to visit said setting). I'm certain I did *not* invent that phrase. So I figure, why not apply the same concept to the thriller genre?

    I agree that a lot of thrillers take place in exotic locations, and the majority have at least one real city as the backdrop, but it's certainly not a mandate. I guess I distinguish travel thriller from "just where people do their business".

  6. Kris - I really like what you've done with the blog in such a short time. It looks great.

    Ok - my current work in progress can be categorized into several sub genres - Mystery Thriller, Crime Thriller - of the PI variety, Action Thriller, Travel Thriller, and one other you don't mention - Contemporary Thriller. As far as the Travel Thriller genre goes I'd imagine many Thriller's involve travel to one or more locations and to be a true Travel Thriller the good guys might need to work in that industry or something cleaver like that.

    I myself aim to classify the book into a single Thriller genre.