I'm setting out to write a mystery that is firmly rooted in the fantasy genre. The MC time travels to another historical era, where the MC has to solve a multi-faceted mystery (having both supernatural and ordinary elements) before she can return to her present day. The idea is that this would be the first in a series, and across several books, a larger story will be told about a community of time travelers and the MC's destiny in that community.

As I look at resources on plotting, it occurs to me that many adventure stories involve mysteries that the MCs must solve. A lot of the Harry Potter books, for example, involve clues and evidence and cracking a mystery.

What's the difference, then, between a fantasy mystery like I'm writing and an adventure story? Is there a real difference?

3 Answers 3


Genres are really just a tool to connect a book with the most receptive target audience. Fantasy-mystery readers are generally that subset of fantasy readers who also love mysteries, and are familiar with the conventions of both genres.

Unless you're steeped in the mystery genre, you probably want to go with "adventure" as your subgenre --it's a more general category with fewer expectations and demands. Mystery readers can be unforgiving of someone who has written more mysteries than they have read.


It's safe to say you are multi-genre or cross-genre.

It's likely your artwork and marketing will target Fantasy readers, while you emphasize the nature of your MC as a 'time detective' and your story as a mystery.

To be clear, this is my opinion from the small amount of details. In my opinion, you will benefit from structuring your story in the vein of a classic mystery, while adding the 'wonder' of a Fantasy environment (and a hint of sci-fi).

I suggest you keep the 'future' to a minimum in this 1st novel. Plan your early series as mystery/romps in time, with each book being set in a specific time and a solvable mystery contained within that time. Your detective is over-powered by means of being from the future, but also a fish-out-of-water who must meet the locals and improvise with what's on hand.

Save the 'future destiny plot' as a much later story, once you've established your time-detective formula. Show how fragile/dangerous it can be even when working as intended, before you break your MC's faith in their own system (and potentially overload the reader with over-complicated antagonists and goals).

Adventure Mystery
MC seeks a better status MC needs to stop a criminal
level-up through new experiences deduct through elimination
the journey the suspects
the Chosen One who doesn't know how he got here methodical sense of moral right and wrong
steps up to the fight the burden of possible failure

It is common to have a 'wise detective' with a 'naive assistant'. If you have such a character, the assistant can be the Fantasy protagonist, while the detective plays the Mystery protagonist. It's not completely silo'd of course, but you know the character beats for each, and they can contrast each other and also lean into your multi-genre story.

Harry Potter lives in a world of 'mysteries' but he's not really the detective. He just becomes more and more aware of what other people already know, and uncovers personal secrets, but there's no 'murder mystery' or crime that drives his motives. Rather the mysteries typically work as plot twists and MacGuffins, and Potter just never really knows what's going on until it's revealed to him, or until he 'adventures' into some area he's not suppose to be.


An adventure is more of a "personal growth" story; there is not necessarily a mystery to solve that motivates the story. In the TV Series Farscape, an astronaut is flung across the Universe, and must learn to survive there.

He did have an ultimate goal, to eventually find his way back home, but a goal is not a "mystery". The adventure was the point. His learning to fit in, to be valuable, to make friends and lovers, was the adventure.

Of course, in order to be a story, there is always conflicts and setbacks and wrong steps and figuring stuff out. But again, those are not central mysteries.

In a mystery, the entire story revolves around some detective solving a "Known Unknown". Somebody killed this guy, who killed this guy is the unknown. When the hero figures that out, the killer gets their comeuppance and the story is over.

Basically, something unexplained happened. The hero is motivated to find the explanation, and the story remains focused on the hero figuring it out, with little else. That may demand travel and new experiences, but all in service of solving the mystery.

An adventure is about exploration, and learning to navigate a new world, new rules, meeting new people. The exploration is often motivated by a search, but the audience knows the point of the search, and the story is about a journey of new places, new knowledge, new cultures or people. It is often about the personal growth of the hero. A travelogue, even if motivated by a problem to solve, is not a mystery.

Even if our hero is just trying to find a way back home; like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz. In fact, Dorothy is given the answer immediately, go find the Wizard of Oz! How? Just follow the yellow brick road!

Plenty of unknowns, but no mystery to solve there. And in fact, the original advice Dorothy received eventually worked, just not as expected.

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