For the Artists Who Like to Remain Strictly Out of the Box
Writing for the mystery genre can be fun, but there’s a lot of preliminary work that goes into it before you can sit down and begin.
One of the most important aspects of mystery writing is the plot. This genre is very plot driven and it’s important to flesh out a good strong plot before beginning. This includes creating several plot points leading readers on different paths. Don’t give out too much information too soon in your story. Equally important is knowing how your story will end. By outlining your plot and establishing your ending up front, you’ll know how to structure the other elements of your story.
A mystery incorporates the following elements: a problem or conflict, a villain, a detective or hero, clues/red herrings, and suspense. Also, the time and setting are important elements as well. Time and setting can augment suspense and mood of the story.
The best way to begin the story is with action. Put the hero, villain, or both in action when you start. This engages the reader and lends itself to introducing the problem/conflict that the hero has to solve.
Characters should include the hero/detective, villain, and a supporting cast. Define your main character. Is he or she a go-getter like “Nancy Drew” or a hard-charging police detective determined to solve any mystery? The villain must be appropriately matched. Having a “Nancy Drew-like” sleuth bring down a crime cartel wouldn’t be realistic. Also, when considering the mystery, or crime/problem to be solved, cruelty to animals or violence directed at anyone is generally discouraged in this genre. Your hero should be striving to solve a murder mystery (like in “The DaVinci Code”) or trying to locate a stolen, rare painting. Keep in mind, as your hero navigates your plot, he or she has to use believable and legal forms of evidence. This keeps your story grounded in reality and believable.
Clues and red herrings are an intrigual part of mystery writing. A clue is a piece of information that helps the hero come that much closer to solving the mystery. One clue should be the crucial clue – that one bit of information that helps the main character solve the problem. Red herrings are bits of information designed to mislead your readers. They make the mystery harder to solve.
Suspense is an intrigual part of a mystery. Footsteps coming up dark steps heightens the “scare” factor of the story. Tied into this is the time and setting. Does the story happen at night? During a full moon? In a cave? In the fog? During the rain? Is it always overcast? This type of setting, effectively described, can augment the suspense of the story.
Mystery writing also has its own vocabulary which is important to identifying the story as a mystery. Words like alibi, clue, crime, hunch, motive, suspect, witness, are specific to “mystery” writing. They help cement the story in the genre.
One of the most well known mystery authors wrote under the pseudonyms “Carolyn Keene” and “Franklin W. Dixon.” Her name was Harriet Adams and she wrote for the classic Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mystery series. She was born in 1892 and died in 1982. Her literary career includes over 200 published works that appeal to young adults and teenagers. Her classic formulas still work in today’s more complex world.
StephB likes to read many books and a variety of different genres. StephB is an author at Writing.com which is a site for Creative Writing.