There is no mystery about writing a mystery -not really, but there are some things to observe if you want to write a compelling mystery. First, to qualify as a mystery your story must have certain ingredients: a crime, a secret, a detective, suspense, and an orderly resolution.
Certain requirements are peculiar to the mystery genre such as; clues, red herring, tying up loose ends and a myriad of questions you must be ready to answer. Forensics, ballistics, police procedures in the area you are planning to set your story are important. Be aware that every state is different in how they handle these aspects of solving a crime. Individual cities differ in how their police force works. Researching to authenticate your story place and/or time is paramount to writing a story worth reading. It’s all in the details. It isn’t necessary to write the tome that Michener would write or describe a scene like Jude Devereaux might, but you need details that make your setting come alive. Sometimes that is only one detail, like the skeleton of the warehouse after the fire stood like a barren cemetery spires of steel pointing skyward. You should also have an idea of how the judicial system works and knowledge of investigative procedure.
There are many, many books on all aspects of police procedure, laws, and even some on the way Mafia or syndicated crime operates. Yes, even they have their own rules that govern what can and cannot be done. For instance in Diamonds, Death and Deceit when the major villain asks his henchmen to snuff out the life of a newspaper reporter he is told that ‘The Family’ will not allow anyone to mess with newspapers. That is their policy. As angry as this makes the villain, he cannot go against ‘The Family’ in this case it is the Russian Mafia. This is something you need to know to write a believable story.
In Writing the Modern Mystery, Barbara Norville says “Mysteries follow strict guidelines. They introduce the action quickly.” If you begin with the murder, the body being discovered, your reader wants to know whodunit, whydunit, howdunit? Immediate dramatic conflict, which is an essential ingredient of any story is necessary to hold reader interest.
Ms Norville also says you need to play fair with your reader. This is akin to an orderly resolution. There should be no out of the blue coincidences or waking up from a dream. It must be a believable solution created by the cause and effect through lines of your story, unless of course you don’t care whether you lose a potential fan. Believe me in this economy, or any economic situation, with the number of books published every day, you do not want to alienate even one potential fan.
Think of a mystery as a way of examining the dark side of human nature, a means to explain the perplexing questions of crime, guilt and innocence, violence and justice. The oft repeated phrase, “By killing, the evil killer rips a jagged hole in the fabric of society.” And your tale begins as someone calls for help. Your protagonist/hero/sleuth answers that call.
Mysteries come in many genres or subgenres if you chose that term. The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing, by Evan Marshall lists over twenty of them. Other books list fewer, but in short-you could say that every genre could be turned into a mystery. The cozy whodunit mystery’s star has always been Agatha Christie or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle like in style. The hard-boiled private investigator and the classic puzzle are more of that ilk. There are also police procedurals, action/adventure/thriller, and espionage, the psychological and romantic suspense and more. As I said any genre is fodder to be turned into a mystery.
Make your reading time absorbing. Pit your wits against the accidental sleuth, who may be in a job like yours. Subscribe to my free e-zine Mystery Readers and Working Writers, the free e-zine for mystery lovers. Get a free e-booklet ” A Nice Quiet Family” a very short/flash mystery. [http://www.billiewilliams.com]