How to Write a Good Mystery Novel
Mysteries are fun to read and are even more fun to create. Writing a mystery novel can be a tough nut to crack since mysteries can be found in anything; in love, life, crime, person, and every other aspect. With that said, here are a few tips to keep the pages turning.
One of the first things to remember is to always think of your story in the long term. Imagine this, you have a great idea or a plotline for a murder mystery. Revealing the murderer in the sixth chapter or not establishing the events that lead to the murder will bring down the whole essence of the story. Hence, to take a compelling plotline and make it into a good novel takes research and long term thinking.
One of the best things to do is to take inspiration and to read more. As they say, “Read a lot. No book is worth reading that isn’t worth re-reading”. Reading and understanding legendary mystery novels is an excellent way to kick-start your writing process. To start out, here are a few books everyone should read.
- The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
- And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
- Woman In White by Wilkie Collins
- Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
- The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
- The Daughter Of Time by Josephine Tey
- The Silence Of The Lambs by Thomas Harris
- The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett
- The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time by Mark Haddon
- The Postman Always Rings Twice by James. M. Cain
Now that you’ve read some of the most popular mystery novels, you can take little tips and tricks from them. Like when it comes to the pacing of your story, how much or how little information do you want to establish, the revealing of the central murder, exaggeration and other such things. Think about what made each of these books stand out and what you liked the most about them. Here’s a few things one should keep in mind while penning down your very own murder mystery.
Establish Your Story
Know about the 5W’s and 1H of your story (who, what, where, when, why and how) and map out a chart on how you plan to reveal them. A mystery story can’t always be written in A B C D. If you’re writing an A, then you have to set up D from the beginning to build intrigue and suspense. For example, if you’re writing a crime thriller mystery, it is vital to set up the events leading to the crime, the motives, the background story, the criminal, and the type of crime they committed.
Along with establishing the nits and grits of your mystery, it is of high importance to develop the time, setting and location. How long does it take the characters to find out the secret, which period is your story set up and everything else that makes your readers picturise the narrative.
Even though unravelling the actions of characters is the central part of a mystery story, establishing the motives behind those actions can help build a unique story in the readers’ minds: the more logical the explanation, the more real the characters.
Balancing the characters and the plot
Characters are the heart of any story, and some of the best mystery novels out there are character-driven. However, mystery novels are all about the pacing. Every page of your book should make the readers turn to the next. It is essential to find the right balance and make sure characterisation and your plot develops hand-in-hand.
The readers need to feel connected to the nature that is moving the story forward. Do not strive for perfection in your characters; adding flaws is what makes them more relatable and human.
Create a trait that endears your reader to characters, even when they make a mistake or commit a crime. Add layers of emotions and portray a multi-faceted character. Emotions add tension to the story and depth to your characters.
Create a Jigsaw Puzzle
Now that you have established your story and the characters, it is time to bring in the puzzle element in your narrative. The essence of writing a good mystery novel is creating a complex framework with subtle hints and clues, building intrigue throughout the story.
Red herrings in literature is a clue or piece of information intended to mislead the readers. Misdirection is the hallmark of a good mystery. Your story should have a lot of twists and turns, dead ends and emerging new plot points. Readers are intelligent, and as a writer, your story should be more innovative. Prevent your audience from figuring out the outcome of your story by throwing red herrings in your novel. They also help keep the suspense alive so that the readers are overwhelmingly surprised during critical story plots.
Decide the end of your story
The ending of a story matters in a genre like mystery more than anything else. Decide how your story ends because your readers have invested time and energy to unravel the mystery. Choose if you want to provide a satisfying end (like a detective catching a criminal) or a tragic end (the protagonist dying) or if you’re going to leave the ending open to interpretation: your story, your choice.
In conclusion, once you have finished writing the first draft of your entire novel, it is time to go back and edit your story. Editing your story establishes a writing style, fixes any errors, and helps with the story’s pacing. There are two main ways to edit your books, either edit it yourself or hire a professional editor. Revising the contents of your novel and making sure you rectify everything as per your plan will help refine your book.
Writing a novel in the mystery genre can be extremely gruelling but fulfilling at the same time. Follow these tips and create your own masterpiece!