How to Write a Mystery Story

Writing a mystery story is huge fun! I loved writing my Connie Carew Mysteries  and below are some tips if the idea appeals to you, too.

Mystery stories need very careful advance planning.

  1. Who is your ‘detective’, your main character, your protagonist, going to be? Young person, or adult?
  2. There should be a reason why it is important for your main character to solve the mystery – a personal, emotional reason. It will make your reader care about them.
  3. Give your main character a ‘side-kick’, a friend, someone with whom they can discuss the mystery. It helps the reader discover what is going on in the detective’s mind.
  4. What is the Crime? Before you have worked out the plot, you must decide this, and in as much detail as possible.
  5. And who is the criminal – the thief, the murderer, whatever? What is their motive? You may need to go back into the past before the action of this story happens. (It’s called the ‘back story’.) Before you begin, make notes and then bring in little bits of the back story as you write.
  6. Choose your setting carefully. This is particularly important in a mystery story because it creates mood and atmosphere.
  7. All good mystery stories have great red herrings to lead the reader astray. It’s a good idea to make a list in advance, though others may come to you as you write. The same goes for the real clues, of course.
  8. But don’t cheat the reader! They will be trying to puzzle the mystery out at the same time as your detective. The real clues should all be there and eventually point logically to the culprit, so your reader exclaims, ‘Of course! Why didn’t I realise that?’   
  9. Make the story exciting and suspenseful. Put your detective in danger!

  10. Don’t make your detective into superman or wonder woman. Make them vulnerable in some way, not infallible.
  11. I love denouements, when everything is revealed. Create a terrific denouement scene at your climax, when all the suspects are gathered together in one place, the detective tells them his or her conclusion and at last the mask slips from the villain’s face.