The mystery novel has always been consistently popular on bestselling charts. Whether it’s The Da Vinci Code or Gone Girl or an Agatha Christie novel, mystery is definitely an attractive plot element for readers.
Here are some key things to remember when writing a mystery novel:
Suspense at First Sight
The first line and chapter of your story should present an image which instantly pulls the reader in. It’s crucial to be straightforward with what is at the core of the mystery from the first few pages only. One of the many ways most mystery novels begin is with the crime itself. Even when they don’t, they introduce the murder or crime pretty early in the book to not drag the plot for the reader.
Make the Reader a Cheerleader
If your story has a detective known for being efficient, introduce flaws like personal conflicts, maybe a personality that is not completely likeable, or a certain setting which restricts them from investigating with complete freedom (a lot of crime mysteries have detectives going to a small town where everyone knows each other and is suspicious of the outsider). If your protagonist is not a detective but a regular person, usually the relative of the victim, have them go through sudden changes like suspecting a close friend or family. Do not hesitate to take your character on a roller-coaster ride.
Which Mystery Are You?
Even if mystery is at the core of your story, it is a genre which works very well with other genres. Apart from the classic murder mystery, literature also has romance mysteries, comedy mysteries, paranormal mysteries, historical mystery, etc. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is a classic romantic mystery while Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series is a brilliant example of comedy meets mystery. We recommend picking up a book similar to yours and seeing how the author plays with the form.
Stick to Details
If your story has a murder (or murders) in it, then not only do you have to be realistic about the murders, you also have to make a timeline of the crime. Those details, like the time of the murder, number of wounds if multiple, exact cause of death, etc. are important to keep the narrative consistent. Though most of these details are to help keep your story on-track, the author has to be cautious that the reader knows as much as the protagonist. It would be no fun if your detective magically knows something which wasn’t mentioned at all! Another good tip is to make a graph of your story for example, if the protagonist encounters a question, make the line go down. If he finds the answer to a question, then make the line go up. If there are non-mystery related scenes, then make the line go straight. This will help your story gain balance.
Introduce false leads! Have a few characters lie so that the protagonist isn’t sure of who to trust. Encourage the reader to investigate while reading by giving them false clues, then unravel their truth within a few chapters. Red Herrings are fun as they keep the reader on their toes, but don’t overdo it to the extent that there’s a false lead in almost every chapter!
Feel free to pick up inspiration from the newspapers. There is an endless amount of crime ranging from murder to kidnapping to robberies that are reported in your local news. Look for a story with an intriguing headline and then ask yourself, why did the headline interest you? There are common elements to some of the world’s most interesting mysteries. Search the Internet for real crimes, and make a note of all the different reasons why certain cases are still unsolved (did someone misplace important evidence? did someone lie in their testimony?) Sometimes reality is wilder than fiction.
These are just some of the tips that we hope inspire you to keep writing your mystery novel. It is a genre which readers can never tire of!
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