Writing a Mystery
I’m so excited! I’ve got a new coaching client and she wants me to help her develop a mystery series concept and plot out the first book in the series. Woohoo!!! My absolute all-time favorite thing to do is develop a book. I love delving into character creation, story structure, and thinking of all the fun scenes that will be needed in order for those characters to grow and learn, what they will need to do to advance toward their goals, and all that will happen to set them back. Whew! Can you tell just by the length of my sentences that I’m excited?
In order to prepare for my first meeting with this client, I did a little research into writing mystery. I’ve put mysteries into some of my romances, but that’s not at all the same thing as writing one from start to finish. To be honest, one of the reasons I haven’t actually written a full mystery is because of all the clues one has to drop and the red-herrings you need to tease and misdirect your reader.
I read some great articles including one by Hallie Ephron that was so good and helpful I went over to Amazon and bought her book. It only comes in paperback to I’m eagerly waiting for that to show up – I’ll tell you all about it when it does, I promise!
But there were some other good articles too – I’ll list my favorites at the end in case you’re interested.
From some articles, I pulled fun ideas – give away the answer to the mystery subtly at the very beginning of the book. By the time the reader gets to the end, they’ll have forgotten it and only remember when they read it again. Also, making a list for the reader of all the clues (including red-herrings). They’ll read and remember the first and last two items on the list; the middle ones will get forgotten to put the right ones there. 😊 So many fun tricks to stump your reader!
Of course, because I love worksheets, I immediately created a new Important Questions worksheet for my client. I have one on getting started writing a romance, and another on getting started writing a fantasy novel, and now I’m really thrilled to have one on writing a mystery. I also created a mystery-specific outline for her. I have to admit, I was so thrilled with these new worksheets I created a Mystery Novelist’s Worksheet Pack on Etsy to go with my Romance Novelist’s Pack and Fantasy Writer’s Pack. If you’re interested, here’s a 25% off coupon so you can get your own copy of these worksheets (note: it only works for the mystery writer’s pack. If you want one of the others there’s a coupon here).
So, what’s different about these worksheets than for other genres? Well, although the story structure is (naturally) the same: Initiating Event, First Major Turning Point, Rising Action, Point-of-No-Return, Complications, Black Moment, Resolution. But at each of those points, there are genre-specific things that might occur. For example, the Instigating Event is usually when the body is found, although it could also be the murder actually taking place. The First Major Turning Point is when the sleuth realizes either that this mystery is not going to an open and shut case but a lot more complicated than they originally thought. One reason for that could be (and I have to say, I think this the most fun thing in a mystery) that the crime suddenly becomes very personal. Forcing the sleuth to have to give something up or face some uncomfortable truth about their own private life ads a fantastic dimension to a mystery. It really engages the reader and deepens the entire plot.
Each major plot point in our usual story structure has some mystery-specific tie-in. Of course, in my outline I list some possibilities but the variations are as endless as your imagination.
A mystery novel can be a very complicated thing to write. It is because of all the possibilities and moving parts I have stayed away from writing them myself, but thanks to all the research I’ve done, I have to admit, I’m now really tempted! If you work everything out beforehand, I think it could be really fun and ultimately no more difficult to write than any other genre. The hard is creating those clues and placing them in plain sight for the reader to overlook.
So, are you a mystery writer? Ever want to be one? Tell me about it!
And here’s that list of helpful blogs I mentioned earlier: