Recently, I participated in Indiana’s Golden Opportunity, better known as the IGO, contest for writers. It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had with a contest for romance.

Here’s what they did spectacularly well. They confirmed receipt of the project, sent out communication about when to expect results, notified the finalists, sent out score sheets and comments, and then notified those who placed and won, followed by second round judges’ comments for those who made the final round.

Their judges were well-versed in the categories they were scoring and gave many tips as they moved through the manuscripts. I was impressed.

No, I didn’t win, but I did make the final round and placed third in my category. But I feel a bit as if I did win because of the judges’ hints and tips. Priceless.

IGO award

And all of the judges had similar scores and areas of improvement on my entry, which is so much easier to deal with than the wildly swinging scores when they are in complete disagreement.

My category involves mystery and suspense. They wanted to see more intrigue from the antagonist’s point of view, which as a mystery, I saved until the end of the story for a big reveal.

And that’s where I’ve been. Rewriting the novel, already 78,000 + words in length, to include the third POV of the antagonist.

Guess what?

I didn’t like it.

So I ordered Jodie Renner’s

Writing a Killer Thriller, an Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction

The first page summed up my problem. In the past, mystery/suspense/thriller was all one category. That has changed.

She defines a mystery as one in which nobody, neither the reader nor the protagonist, knows who the bad guy is. Part of the story is figuring out ‘whodunit’. In a thriller/suspense, the reader knows who the villain is and sometimes the hero does as well. It is the ‘outwitting’ that is the storyline.

She also describes a mystery as being more ‘cerebral’, where as a thriller/suspense is more adrenaline-pumping.

Although there is plenty of suspense in my manuscript, keeping the antagonist a mystery adds to that. But it doesn’t mean it qualifies for the category of suspense/thriller.

All the time and work I put into adding the third POV wasn’t for nothing though. I learned a lot about that character. And I’ll be fleshing out the storyline when the introduction is finally made.

And I’ve learned that I’m writing mysteries, not thrillers. Although they share suspense, they are now in separate categories.

Who knew?

Renee Johnson is the author of Acquisition, and The Haunting of William Gray.  She is currently working on a Young Adult novel, while editing a suspense novel which has international flair–an homage to her love of travel and foreign food.  She lives on a farm in North Carolina with her husband, Tony Johnson, and one very spoiled German shepherd named Gretel.