Why you need book categories
The purpose of identifying a book category for a work of fiction, whether it’s a children’s adventure story or a political thriller like The Missing Activist, is to help book shops know exactly where to place them in their shops or online stores. If someone’s hooked on fast-paced suspense stories with a twist, they don’t want to have to wade through a pile of Enid Blyton books to find them.
The three categories
The book industry classifies novels as either literary fiction (highbrow, character-driven, no rules), genre fiction (easy-read, plot driven, several rules), and mainstream fiction (the blockbuster book from either of the other two that everyone reads).
The main genres are crime, fantasy, romance, science fiction, Western, inspirational, historical fiction, and horror. However, there are 22 add-on genres or sub-genres with new ones added to keep up with contemporary tastes. Examples of recent new classifications include Tartan Noir, allegedly coined by Ian Rankin.
Add to this a myriad of terms like “hard-boiled” as this article from Crime Reads explain, tags such as “spy” and job specs such as private investigator (as opposed to police procedural) and you get a sense of the breadth of the indexing system. Consider also whether the crime is an act of terrorism (which has its own genre) involves a conspiracy, and whether there is a political element to it (potential warfare, government overthrow or corrupt politician).
What are the rules of thriller fiction?
The broad “thriller” category in writing has certain conventions.
Firstly, there needs to be a crime at the centre, at the very least. If not, the threat of a serious crime. Such as in Gone Girl when Nick comes home from the bar to find that his wife, Amy, has gone missing.
Of course there’s the victim. (either a missing person, a dead body or a hostage) Or several victims. There is usually over one life at stake.
However, in thrillers it’s the villain who features high, sometimes in equal measure with the protagonist or hero. These baddies are clever and powerful. Sometimes ordinary people acting out of revenge or malice (as in domestic thrillers), but other times the evil character is a master criminal or terrorist intent on annihilation of the entire human race. Whoever they are, thriller villains always pose a huge threat. Without the Machiavellian star, the story simply wouldn’t hang together.
Often there is the ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing’. This is the character who says one thing and does the opposite (trying to put the hero off the scent).
Readers enjoy trying to outsmart and top the villain (and so help the hero) by solving the clues and red herrings.
And then, when everything seems dusted and done, there’s usually one last twist.
Why are thrillers popular?
If you combine the mystery elements of a detective novel (whodunnit) with adventure, conflict, conspiracy, and a fast motorbike, you get drama with a capital D. Everything’s happening at once, and it’s all ahead. Because the hero is the only one to stop the villain before he or she carries out their heinous crime, you’re carried along for the ride.