I’ve received some questions about writing mystery novels; specifically about plotting them. Over the years, I’ve developed my own little specialty in ghostwriting fiction for several clients, so this genre is near and dear to my heart.
Writing mysteries is huge fun, because you’re creating a puzzle for readers to solve, as well as developing characters who can be as weird as you can contrive them.
So, how do you get started writing a mystery?
Get started writing a mystery novel: start with the crime
The crime’s at the heart of your novel; without the crime, there’s no mystery.
Therefore, you have three major characters with whom to work. As we said in Writing A Mystery Novel: 3 Tips For Starting Your Bestseller:
A mystery’s three primary characters are: the victim, the murderer, and the sleuth.
New mystery authors spend a lot of time creating an unusual sleuth, especially in “cozy” mysteries. Over the past couple of decades in cozies, there’s been an abundance of hobbyist sleuths — the sleuth is a caterer, or a dog walker, or a quilter.
My students tie themselves into knots developing unusual sleuths. That’s OK, BUT if you settle on your sleuth before you’ve organized the victim and crime, it can lead to problems later.
My suggestion: start with the crime.
Why start with the victim and crime?
- It’s easier to plot your mystery;
- There’s less chance you’ll write yourself into a corner;
- You may write a page-turner which becomes a bestseller.
Let’s look at three plotting strategies which give you a head start on writing a dramatic mystery.
Ask yourself these questions.
1. Where does the crime take place?
The crime’s location/ setting offers the perfect opportunity to add drama to your mystery, so don’t waste it.
It’s a few years since I read John Sandford’s Virgil Flowers mystery, Bad Blood. I’m not likely to forget the novel because the murder occurs in a grain silo, a gruesome — and very unusual — setting.
2. Who discovers the crime?
The discovery of the crime gives you another opportunity for drama. Some authors do the “discovery” scenes brilliantly; P.D. James for one.
Please don’t skimp on this scene. It’s the heart of your novel, and sets up everything to come. Additionally, this scene may be the only time readers “meet” one of the main characters, the victim.
3. Whodunnit? Planting clues and red herrings
The charm of reading mystery novels is finding clues and red herrings. That’s the charm of writing mysteries too — planting the clues and red herrings.
When you start your mystery with plotting the crime, planting your clues becomes much easier.
A tip: keep track of your clues. It’s easy to lose track, and forget where you planted what, as well as who found a specific clue, and what effect it had.
Have fun writing your mystery… 🙂
Your readers want to enter your novel's world. They want to experience your book -- they want to live your book with your main characters.More info →
I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly.More info →
Resources to build your writing career
Get daily writing news and tips on the blog’s Facebook page.