Aug 03 2008

Why are mysteries more popular than fantasy or sci-fi?

Published by at 9:04 pm under Commentary

Observations from the Balcony suggests it is because mysteries are helped more by cinema than other forms of literary fiction. I’d lay out two alternate theories: 1) it’s far easier to make a detective story intriguing and interactive, because the readers can solve the case alongside the detective. 2) The premises, particularly in detective mysteries, are easier to sell than exotic premises that use magic or advanced technology.

Additionally, I think it’s slightly easier to write mysteries…

1. Explaining the parameters for a mystery is less of an obstacle than explaining magical or technological capabilities. It is usually hard to create suspense with a magical hero because we don’t really know the limits of his power. In contrast, we do know what a mystery hero is capable of, so it feels more impressive and less contrived when he finally wins.

2. Mystery writers don’t have to spend as much time explaining their world. Even if the reader doesn’t know anything about the gang portrayed in a mystery, it’s probably pretty similar to other gangs he’s heard about. In contrast, a fantasy author might have to spend more effort building up (say) a religious conspiracy for less effect.

3. The author of a mystery rarely has to worry about the self-esteem of his readers. In contrast, a fantasy writer may have to overcome reader anxieties about feeling juvenile. (Case in point: I enjoyed Soon I Will Be Invincible and its bright and flashy cover, but I absolutely would not read SIWBI in public).

4. This opinion may be shaped by reading more fantasy and sci-fi manuscripts than mysteries, but the cliches of the detective field are generally less obnoxious.

One response so far

One Response to “Why are mysteries more popular than fantasy or sci-fi?”

  1. daveon 04 Aug 2008 at 8:37 am

    Good post. I recently read a pretty great SF mystery that handled both sets of tropes fairly well … Emissaries from the Dead by Adam-Troy Castro.

    here’s the link:

    http://www.amazon.com/Emissaries-Dead-Andrea-Novel-Novels/dp/0061443727

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