I did research on how to write a mystery for an audio podcast I was doing. These are my notes on mystery writing. Please add your own notes in the comments section.
General Mystery Rules
- There should probably be a murder
- There should be a closed circle of suspects all with the means, motive and opportunity for the crime
- There should be a detective, either amateur or professional
- Plot is extremely important and must be mapped out
- Introduce the detective and the culprit early on
- The crime should happen very early on
- The crime should be believable
- Keeping clues from the reader is cheating
- Whenever clues are discovered, something must draw the detective to the next stage
- Wait as long as possible to reveal the culprit
- What is the main conflict?
- Example: The criminal is the key to preventing a war. Should the detective arrest him?
- Pull out the essence of this conflict: ‘sometimes you must sacrifice the greater good to uphold justice.’
- Hints of this idea should thread their way throughout the story
- Make a list of all the fascinating things about your location that will enrich the reading experience
- Match the locations to the storyline
- Keep it interesting by placing the characters in unusual locations – don’t always stick them at a coffee shop for a meeting
- All the information available to the detective must also be available to the reader
- Important ‘smoking gun’ clues should be made to seem insignificant
- Place the smoking gun clues near the beginning or amongst a list of other small clues so it’s out of the reader’s mind
- ‘Red herring’ clues that lead the detective in the wrong direction should play a dominant role
- A sub-plot could explore this theme from a contrasting angle, ie: ‘a thief steals for his family’.
- When your detective shows mercy when it’s deserved, he will be loved by the reader
- This will also emphasize the evil of the main crime
Create an Outline
- Start with a location
- Add the theme
- Add the crime
- Create the smoking gun clue
- Create at least 3 suspects all with motives and the ability to carry out the crime
- Outline stories for each of the suspects and add red herrings and clues along the way
General Writing Tips
- Characters must be well rounded
- Constantly ask yourself, “can I increase the danger?”
- Ask yourself, “can I make this story more monumental?
- Always know the end before writing
- Don’t get bogged down with the backstory
- Hook the reader with something exciting at the start (ie: the murder)
If you have more ideas, please add them in the comments section.