Friday, April 29, 2011
Thrillers and Mysteries -- what's the difference?
I was reluctant to do this exercise--especially after reading the amazing efforts of my fellow bloggers this week. So I decided to just write it as quickly as possible and see what came out.
I consider my books traditional mysteries, but I try to use thriller techniques occasionally to get the adrenaline going and the heart pounding.
The elevator was out of order. Great. Liz was already late. Eleventh floor. No air conditioning. She’d experienced worse, but not when she was dressed up and trying to make a good impression. The first two flights were easy. By the third her feet started to hurt in her high heels, and she began to sweat under her silk blouse and suit jacket.
At last, panting, she reached the 11th floor. Liz didn’t once think it was strange that she hadn’t passed anyone on her way up. She pushed open the door to the hallway. A no frills building, the owners had tossed up walls, laid down some tile and put a coat of paint down occasionally but hadn’t blown their budget on anything fancy. The fluorescent lights hummed and flickered.
Suite 11-F. She’d written down the address and even though she’d memorized it weeks ago, she still checked the paper in her hand again. Jonathan Neetlebaum. Lawyer. He might have some information about her father. Her excitement mounted. Liz could have veered off to use a restroom and clean up a little, but she couldn’t wait to see him and finally find out what had happened to her dad who disappeared so many years ago.
Liz pushed open the door to the office expecting to be greeted by a secretary. But the first room was empty except for bookshelves, and several brown leather chairs arranged for visitors. She cleared her throat. “Hello?”
She walked in further to peer into the second room. Perhaps the lawyer was on the phone and hadn’t heard her. The room was crowded with dark leather furniture and law books. At first it seemed unoccupied as well. Had she made a mistake about the time? Had he not waited for her arrival? And then Liz saw his hand peeking out from behind the desk, pale against the dark red oriental carpet. She moved toward it, thinking he had fallen or had a heart attack. Maybe she could help him. And then she saw the blood. Someone had shot and killed him.
Without thinking, she turned and ran.
And now for a mystery...
Liz watched impatiently as Mr. Neetelbaum arranged the papers on his desk for the 100th time. He looked like the kind of man who had regular manicures and a whole row of identical blue pressed shirts in his closet. He had written her a formal letter hinting of family mysteries. She came out of curiosity. Her family had all died and she had been alone for years. Luckily her mother’s life insurance money had helped pay for college, a down payment on a condo and start in life. But she had never stopped longing for family and to know more about family members. She was hoping that someone had reached out to this lawyer to find her.
“What do you know about your father, Ms. Smith?”
Her mind went blank. She hadn’t been expecting the question. “Not much. He died when I was a baby. His name was Robert Smith, and he was in the army.”
The lawyer shuffled the papers on his desk. It had to be a nervous tick. “How interesting.”
Was it? To her it sounded so hopeless and tragic. She would have loved to have known her father.
“What if I told you that your father was still alive.”
She stared at him in disbelief. “Is this some kind of joke?”
“Not at all. But I have information that I think would be very valuable to you.”
Valuable. That meant he wanted money. Money she didn’t have. She wondered if it was for real or if he was just looking for an easy mark.
“How did you learn about him -- and about me?”
“Let’s just say that the police are very interested in the case. You see, your father is a murderer.”
She had not been expecting this. In all her fantasies of her father, he was brave and loyal and kind. He died tragically and young as a hero. To find out that he was still alive and a murderer seemed like a horrible cruel joke. She shook her head in disbelief. Her father couldn’t be guilty. She wanted more than anything else in the world to prove him wrong and make him eat his words.
Is there a big difference? Could either one be the start of a thriller or mystery? Perhaps. Maybe in the end I can just write one way, and the story dictates where I go. But now I'm glad I had the chance to do the exercise and have a chance to mull over the differences.