Guest Post – Alicia Dean

Horror…Gothic Mystery…Paranormal…Suspense…Thrillers –
How to distinguish between all the ‘creepy’ genres

I love the dark, spooky, edge of your seat creepy stuff. Love writing it, love reading it. But there are so many different categories and sub genres out there, it’s hard to keep track of what’s what. I am not an expert, and I do not have an official definition of each, but in my experience of reading/writing, I have come to some conclusions.

Horror – Normally involves monsters of all types, as far as the imagination can stretch. These stories are often gory, extremely frightening, and they definitely do not guarantee a Happily Ever After. They do not guarantee that the Protagonist will survive, but most of the time the monsters are defeated. Even if the MC (Main Character) has to sacrifice himself or herself in order to ‘win.’

Paranormal – Usually associated with a basic group of Supernatural creatures, i.e, Vampires, Werewolves, Shape Shifters, Demons, Zombies, Grim Reapers, etc. Most of the time, these stories have a romance element and usually, Good trumps Evil in the end. Although Good can often be the creatures themselves. (More often than not, a Supernatural creature is the MC).

Gothic Mystery – Are almost always set in a remote town, usually but not always a coastal town. They normally feature a young woman as the MC, one who is away from her family, or has no family (which is actually more common), and this MC travels to this spooky, faraway place. She always has a compelling reason to visit this strange land and always becomes involved in a mystery which puts her at risk. Oftentimes, she ends up having a connection to the town or a resident of the town. Sometimes, that is why she journeys there in the first place. Usually, she finds love, but that’s not a ‘must.’

Suspense – These stories are fast-paced and danger of some kind is normally the theme. Usually, the danger is personal, and it is to the MC and/or someone they love, rather than on the broader scope of a thriller. Oftentimes, the villain is known, it’s just a matter of catching them and/or surviving. Suspense stories can have romance, which would put them in the Romantic Suspense category, but it is not required.

Mystery – These are your basic ‘Whodunits.’ They are necessarily fast-paced but should be intriguing, compelling. Readers typically like to solve the mystery along with—or preferably before–the MC. A well-written mystery will not allow the reader to unravel the mystery/identify the bad guy with certainty, but the person who is ultimately the villain should probably have been one of the reader’s guesses. Not necessarily, but sometimes if the bad guy wasn’t on the reader’s radar, then the author is ‘cheating’ the reader by making the villain someone too unlikely. Enough clues should have been dropped along the way that, even if a reader doesn’t solve the mystery, once they learn the truth, they can say, “Ah, yeah. I should have figured that one out.” Again, romance can be a part of the story, but it’s not a must.

Thriller – These are basically like a suspense but are usually more fast-paced with higher stakes. They involve a broader scope of danger, such as to an entire community, or even an entire country. Thrillers are often International, and can take the MC, along with the reader, to all sorts of foreign, exotic places. Sometimes a relationship is a part of the story, but romance isn’t usually a focus. (Under the Thriller heading, there are various sub headings, such as, Crime thrillers, political, legal, psychological, etc.)

That is my interpretation of all these exciting and dangerous genres. I might not be 100 percent accurate, but it’s not all that important what you call them, as long as they keep you turning pages and make your heart beat just a little faster.

What is your favorite of the above genres? What is it that keeps you coming back to these kinds of stories?

Alicia Dean Tin Man ColorAlicia Dean lives in Edmond, Oklahoma and is the mother of three grown children. Alicia loves creating spine-chilling stories that keep readers on the edge of their seats. She writes paranormal and romantic suspense for several different publishers and is excited to be a launch author for Amazon’s Kindle Worlds with two Vampire Diaries stories and one Gossip Girl story.


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About Natasha Deen

Quietly biding my time until the day I learn how to hone being a klutz into a super power, I combat writer’s block by singing opera to the cats & dogs. Follow me on Facebook ( & Twitter (

22 thoughts on “Guest Post – Alicia Dean

  1. Alicia, even for myself, this is great info. Sometimes the lines between genres blurs when one is so deeply rooted into our own stories. Plus, it gives the rabid readers that follow us the info they need to decide upon for their next reading victim. Thanks! Well done!

  2. Your definitions seem pretty accurate from what I’ve read, though I learned something from the Gothic Mystery definition. Of all of the above, thrillers are my favorite, though not political or legal.

    • Thank you for stopping by, Jessica. I agree. Although these might not be the ‘official’ definitions, the genres seem to follow this basic pattern. You are probably too young to remember the old Victoria Holt and Phyllis A. Whitney gothic mysteries. LOL. I read them voraciously in the 70’s.

  3. Hi, Alicia. Great descriptions of these categories. Writing romantic suspense, myself, I often wondered where the line was drawn–now I know, thanks to your breakdown. ~ Carol

  4. Thanks for the great explanations, Alicia. I’d often wondered but as a frequently hyphened author (paranormal/romance, rom/com with suspense, crazy cat lady/hoarder, etc.) I just figured if you throw enough genres in, you’ll be right on something.

  5. It’s nice to see the difference of each in writing. Almost representing (ahem) a spreadsheet. I love romance with an element of suspense. Would that fall be between suspense and thriller or vague suspense?

    • Ahh…maybe you’re rubbing off on me. That is spreadsheet-ish.
      🙂 ‘Vague’ suspense doesn’t sound all that appealing. How about Historical Romance with Suspense Elements? Or Contemporary Romance with Suspense Elements? Or Kathy’s special blend of genres? 😀 Thanks for stopping by!

    • A cozy mystery is still a mystery, but it usually, but not always, involves an older progragonist, most often a female. Cozy mysteries are typically rather light on the violence and danger aspect and have a humorous tone. They are often set in small towns and involve a death or deaths of someone in the community. The protagonist is usually not involved in law enforcement, but is the one who ends up solving the mystery, after becoming a target of the killer by the end, if she wasn’t beforehand.

      So…maybe that was TMI. But that’s basically a cozy mystery. 🙂 Thanks for popping in, Leah.

  6. Thanks for sharing these descriptions. I just read Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels and it fits your definition of gothic fiction perfectly.

    • Hi Gweneth, thank you for stopping by. That’s very interesting. I’m glad I was at least partly accurate. 🙂 I haven’t read a Victoria Holt book in years. I should do that soon.

  7. Now I’m following you to Canada, Alicia. Thanks for the journey to a cool locale!
    Thanks for your interpretation. Where would horror fit in? Not that I like that genre whatsoever! lol I feel none of the genres you mention have to have romance unless they are labeled “romantic ‘Genre'” whatever that genre may be. But either way, I do prefer my books with at least some romance. 🙂 My favorite of your list is mystery and suspense.

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