Define the Thriller Genre

Thriller? Suspense? Adventure? Action?

What is the name of this genre?!?! *me pulling out my hair*

Some people say they’re synonymous, some say they each have their own break down. In my opinion, they’re different extremes of the same genre. If you don’t feel that way, don’t fear, I won’t attempt to brain wash you.



The plot is concentrated on quickly moving action, danger, and high stakes. The main characters always have something threatening their very lives, if not multiple things and it is very much a rush against time. The characters do not lead a normal everyday life, or at least if they started out leading one of normality something comes along and changes that in a quick fast hurry.

Suspense and tension keep the reader concerned with what is going to happen next. Most sources say that the adventure itself (plot) overshadows and is more important than the characters and theme. Whatever the case, this genre is all about the emotional and psychological thrill and/or excitement evoked in the reader.

Thriller dictates that the action is of a quick pace. Leans more towards the sensational side of this genre. Generally has more violence, sex, as well as a “good vs. evil” basis.

Suspense is a slower, tenser buildup of the conflict.

Adventure is a more broad and generalized definition of this genre. Thriller and suspense are ultimately the same genre, simply at different ends of the spectrum. Each has its own measurement of suspense, action, adventure, and thrill, just at different level of extremes.


For the sake of retaining my sanity (and so this makes sense to you), when I refer to this genre as thriller, suspense, or adventure; I mean it to be the same genre. I mostly used “thriller”.




Romantic: Normally contain a strong heroine with loads of both compassion and passion. Normally does not follow the ‘romance’ genre plot but instead follows along the thriller part of things (obviously), but the heroine has a love interest of some kind.

  • Erotic: Isn’t what one would think. It doesn’t just have a lot of sex in it. Normally it’s about some kind of affair or a case of multiple lovers gone awry. Think “Fatal Attraction”.

Fantasy (Paranormal/Supernatural): A thriller with a few aspects of the fantasy genre added in. This could be a character with a paranormal ability or a species in the novel that isn’t human but supernatural. Thrillers don’t tend to get too deep into the fantasy side of things however; they keep it at a minimal, nothing too fantastical.

Medical: Normally contains a new and terrifying disease outbreak where the main character is the only one who can contain it/save the world. Or it contains a doctor who has been drug into a situation that changes their life and leaves them unable to go back to their normal one at least for a while. Whatever the case, it remains in the medical field one way or the other.

  • Horror: Medical thrillers have a tendency to cross over with “Medical Horror”, where some disgusting and diluted form of ‘medical’ something is done and it doesn’t turn out good for the patient. When this happens, how much of the horror element and how much of the medical element is used is up in the air. This subgenre has blurry lines.

Conspiracy: Story that surrounds the unraveling of a conspiracy by the main characters and their fight to keep said conspiracy from killing them and/or everyone they love.

Political: A thriller where there is a political power struggle of some sort going on. The main character may or may not be a member of a political party, government, or under the employment of the government.

  • Legal: Novel that takes place in the legal system, normally following the story of a lawyer.

Military:Normally this kind of thriller follows the story of a military individual who fights from behind enemy lines or on a special kind of military team.

  • Para-Military: This is normally where the “paranormal/supernatural” subgenre comes into play, but very specifically. The military personal have some sort of inhuman enhancement or were born with some sort of inhuman ability. Or both. Sometimes there are other characters/species within the novel that aren’t entirely human as well.

Espionage: Normally follows the life of a spy, who is racing against time to fix something before their country is driven into peril by some source of human created evil or is taken over by/threatened by another country.

Eco-thriller: The fall of an entire civilization and/or species is the main conflict. Some kind of ecological disaster is imminent if the main character(s) don’t find a way to fix it. The threat to the environment is normally man made.

Comedy: Even when what is happening is serious, there is humor added in evenly throughout. There are different ranges of this and different approaches on how ‘serious’ to get. Think “Austin Powers” for the most comical end of that extreme.

Psychological: This is a major subgenre of thrillers. It can pretty much be categorized as a sub genre of every single subgenre in this genre (wow that was redundant!). A psychological thriller makes you think, it’s like a big mind game. Most psychological thrillers use a major amount of suspense build up.

  • Horror: Psychological thrillers can also cross over into the horror genre. This normally happens when the ‘bad guy’ is one majorly messed up person in the head.

Technothrillers: No one much disputes that Tom Clancy is the creator of this subgenre. Normally the conflict surrounds a newly acquired piece of science or technology.

Exploration: This normally refers to physical exploration, as in a novel where the main character is looking for something that if not found could cause a major disaster, whether worldwide or in their personal life.

  • Treasure Hunt: The main characters are after some lost treasure, in specific.
  • Religious: Trying to find a holy artifact or historical secret.
  • Survivalist:Occurs after some disaster has struck and you get to see what extremes the main characters will go to, to survive.
    • Horror: Sometimes possess elements of the horror genre. It can get pretty gooey and gross when this happens, but not so much that it would be considered a horror novel. The scare factor isn’t the most important thing; the thrill and suspense still are.
    • Paranormal/Supernatural: Sometimes what created the disaster or what the main characters now have to out-survive, isn’t entirely human.





Thrillers can include/combine elements from almost every genre and/or subgenre there is. Though this holds true, the thriller genre is very distinct. You will almost always be certain when you are holding a thriller of some sort. What predominantly makes this genre so unique is the genuine and distinct taste of ‘thrill’ you get out of these novels.


As a side note – that was crazy! I can’t believe how many specific sub-genres this genre has! After reading up on all of this, I now know of a few sub-genres I’m going to explore. 😀

This Defining the Genres thing is actually turning out to be pretty cool, not just helpful to me.



Does this make sense? Did I leave any sub-genres out? Any questions?

What about you thriller novel writers and/or lovers – do you think I’ve done your genre justice?



Filed under The Odd Bit

12 responses to “Define the Thriller Genre

  1. Anonymous

    What would you categorize a zombie story under? To take it a step further, what about a zombie story with elements of action and comedy?

  2. Pingback: Mengenal Genre Novel Thriller - RONNY MAILINDRA

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  4. Pingback: things i love « Lit and Scribbles with Jae

  5. Amani Sheth

    I love it 😀 ❤
    And it totally follows the order that it should. I absolutely love the side note as well 🙂

  6. I love thrillers, though I tend to shy away from horror ones. I’ve avoided horror since my bad experience with The Ring and never went back! I mostly prefer the comedy and psychological ones. =]
    Great post. You certainly did your research!

  7. You’ve certainly done a lot of research on this! It all makes sense to me and I can see why you were wanting to tear your hair out! 😀

  8. Jae

    Makes sense to me and I like getting a refresher on what genres are.

    I really like that astronomical Prague clock. I immediately Googled it to learn more about it. If I ever visit Prague I’m definitely going to have a look at that amazing clock! Thanks for posting!

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