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Writing Tip: The Mystery Story



The Mystery Story - Crafting a Tale of Suspense






The mystery is one of those things that just can’t be jumped into. You really need to plan out a mystery before pen hits the paper, or in most cases before fingers hit the keys. There is a lot that happens in a mystery and it is important for you follow some basic ideas before you embark on such task.


First up is the mystery itself. Did someone have something stolen? Was there a murder? Is it something that has been hidden for a long time? Not sure what you want to write about for your mystery, then turn to your local newspaper and see what jumps out at you. This will be your springboard for what you will create.


Your detective is the next crucial part of the story. Who is it going to be? Will it be a teenager who has been all over the world, snotty and well read? Will it be the shy librarian who just can’t seem to get over her stutter? Maybe it is a pair of brothers like the old Hardy Boys? Whoever you decide to create make sure they are both interesting and have either flaws or skills that will help move your story in the right direction.


The minor characters or sometimes the side kick is another important element. For Sherlock Holmes, his trusty Dr. Watson was a sounding board and a way for the reader to see what Holmes was really doing when he investigated. Sometimes this role is a close friend, the client, or even the hired help. Whoever you use may not be there to help. Is there the man who is out to stop your character from solving the mystery out of fear of another secret might be revealed? Maybe she is the villain out to prevent being caught? Or are they the mother who just doesn’t want to see their child hurt?


Once you know who you are dealing with and what you are planning to have your character solve it is important to create the list of clues that will lead your character to solution of the mystery. If it is a case of a hidden family fortune, what clues did great great grandfather leave for his children to find the hidden gold? Where were the clues put, and how did one logically lead to the next? If it is a murder mystery how does the first clue left at the scene lead to the next logically? Remember, if you are having a cast of characters they will need alibis. Whose alibi will not hold up once all the evidence has been collected?


Ever read a mystery and been taken in by the red herring? This is the clue that just seems to scream “HE DID IT!” Later on you realize you were so caught up in that clue you missed when the author casually mentioned the muddy shoe half hidden under the bed, which later proves to be pivotal to the real crime. A case of misdirection can be helpful and keep your reader guessing and interested in your story.


Don’t forget the importance of setting in a mystery novel. There is the old house that the family has deserted that holds the secret to the family fortune. Maybe the seedy hotel where the body was found? The creaking stairs and near misses while trying to find the next clue. Then there are the dark alleys, foggy streets, and scary shops where your character can run into trouble.


Perhaps the most important thing you need to know before you begin to write your mystery is how the whole thing will end. You don’t want to begin, letting the mystery build and then your character suddenly finds himself without any way to get the problem solved. Know how your snotty teenager finds the clues that direct them to the thief, or how the sweet old gentleman discovers the family fortune which will allow the family to stay together now that they aren’t facing the poor house.


Mystery stories are real work. They don’t just happen. They take careful planning and sometimes include a lot of research before you ever begin to write. If you decide to take on this challenge plan it out, enjoy yourself, and take your readers on a ride that will keep them guessing till the end. We are waiting to see your mystery story and hope it is something you can be proud of.

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A great piece Wayne. Being a Sherlock Holmes nut, I can only imagine the amount of work Conan Doyle put into even the shortest of the tales.


For a more modern (and GA) take on this, check out Anyta Sunday's Dragons of Drupes.

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