August 20, 2009

The Lure of Historical Suspense

by DiAnn Mills

Many times I’m asked which genre I like the best--historical or contemporary suspense. Actually I like them both. Each genre is challenging, exciting, and full of possibilities to create a unique story.

I started thinking about historical suspense and how I enjoy incorporating hold-your-breath anticipation into my stories. Yep, partner, I’ve been writing historical suspense all along. Victims are dumped on doorsteps. The innocent are in fear of their lives. Outlaws prey on the unsuspecting. Range wars. Railroad tycoons who are hungry for more land. Tornadoes. Disease. Fires. All those stories need strong heroes and heroines who must choose between taking a courageous stand and risking danger or allowing tragedy and chaos to continue.

Sounds a whole lot like a western.

Except a western is limited to a setting in the western United States and the time period from after the Civil War to the turn of the twentieth century. Conflicts are generated from problems among Native Americans and settlers, ruthless outlaws, and rich landowners who want to take what belongs to hardworking people. Most westerns use an unlikely hero to save the day. We read about handsome, slow-talking, cowboys, a few who tell the girl goodbye and kiss their horses. Of course there are objections to any story line.

Westerns reach out and lasso a snippet of the past that entertains us. These stories can be suspenseful, but not all historical suspense novels are westerns.

Historical suspense novels are bubbling over with action. They tug on the physical, emotional, spiritual, and mental forces of our characters. They take any portion of the past and add enough detail to make the story real. Diligent writers sprinkle in plenty of creativity to keep us glued to the page and on the edge of our seats.

Facts are a requirement. Readers will despise you if you break that rule. Libraries and state historical societies are dynamic resources to assist the reader. I much prefer visiting the area and snapping many pictures. Many times local or state-published books about the setting and its people give us rich tidbits of information.


Strong characters and unpredictable plot twists are essential in every suspense novel. The advantage of treating your readers to a historical suspense is the journey back in time to a slower pace of life when men and women lived by their wits, and hard work meant the toil of your hands. The romance of your favorite era combined with a suspenseful story will keep your readers craving another adventure!

DiAnn Mills


Vickie McDonough said...

Thanks, DiAnn! I love reading a good historial, especially westerns. I hope you do another historical series soon.

Molly Noble Bull said...

Historical suspense is right up my ally. DiAnn. I can hardly wait to read one of yours. And if it is also a western, well.... It doesn't get in better than that.

Edna said...

I like the westerns also are the historical seems they are both about the same, I am reading now all the books about the Cal. Chances, I have a novella with 3 stories and 3 of the samll books with one story each, These are sort of western and sort of historical, so I really like about any books.


Stephen and Janet Bly said...

Enjoyed your line..."Westerns reach out and lasso a snippet of the past that entertains us." Put it on Twitter just now.