Perhaps you’ve considered mystery writing, but mysteries seem very complicated. You don’t know where to start.
These novels aren’t as complex as they seem — with just three ingredients you’re well on the way to writing your novel.
A vital tip: always begin with the crime.
Mystery writing: always begin with the crime
Sex sells, but so does crime.
… the best way to start writing a mystery, thriller or suspense novel is to choose a crime: one which appeals to you and makes you curious.
Choosing your crime first ensures that:
- The crime matters to your sleuth: he or she MUST solve the crime or die (literally, or metaphorically.) If your sleuth is a detective he has other reasons to solve the crime than: “it’s his job”;
- Not only must your sleuth solve the crime, the odds are against him.
With that in mind, let’s look at the three ingredients you’ll need to cook up a wonderful mystery, thriller, or suspense novel.
1. The crime: are you writing a mystery, thriller, or suspense novel?
Your crime can be anything you like. It may be relatively mild — a theft for example; heist and caper novels feature some kind of theft or a forgery.
Most commonly, the crime you choose will be murder in some form, whether you’ve chosen to write a domestic thriller (did he kill his wife?) or a serial killer novel (he’s killed, and he’ll go on killing.)
Some thrillers involve huge crimes. Perhaps the bad guys are terrorists, or lunatics with planetary destruction in mind.
Once you’ve chosen your crime, decide whether you’re writing a mystery, a thriller or a suspense novel. Amazon combines the three into an umbrella category: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense (MTS.)
I’m sure you’re wondering what the difference is… and why should you care?
- A mystery is a puzzle. You’re giving readers clues to solve the puzzle along with the sleuth. In a mystery the murderer is revealed only at the end of the book. In a sense, the author’s writing a puzzle for readers to solve.
The story question in a mystery is: who did it?
- A thriller or suspense novel engenders suspense. Readers read for hits of adrenaline. The murderer or bad guy is revealed early, sometimes at the start of the book. This gives readers time to enjoy the suspense.
The story question in thriller or suspense fiction is: can whoever did whatever-it-is be stopped? (Bonus points if the sleuth is next on the killer’s hit list.)
If you’re a pantser, as I am, you may not decide on whether you’re writing a mystery, thriller or suspense novel until shortly after you start writing.
2. Your sleuth can be anyone you like
Will you choose an everyday person or a superhero?
Let’s say you’re writing a cozy mystery involving dogs. Someone is poisoning pets in a neighborhood. When considering sleuths, you might choose a veterinarian, a dog walker, or a shop owner.
You might choose to write a thriller. Your crime: terrorists smuggled a dirty bomb into a city. Your sleuth must prevent thousands of deaths.
Who will you choose as your sleuth? A mild-mannered superhero like Clark Kent/ Superman? Or a secret service agent, or…?
Remember what we said earlier: not only must your sleuth solve the crime, the odds are against him. Avoid choosing a sleuth who’s so capable that he easily solves the crime. Ensure that in comparison to the bad guy, your sleuth is the underdog so that you can create lots of suspense.
3. A cast of interesting characters: readers read fiction for the people
In addition to the criminal and the sleuth, your MTS fiction needs a cast of characters. Some characters, like his trusty sidekick, will support your sleuth.
Other characters, especially if you’re writing a mystery, exist to mislead the sleuth; they’re red herrings.
Mystery writing: a great choice if you’re nervous about plotting
As we said in New Author? 3 Reasons To Write Mystery Fiction:
If you’re a new author your novel can seem like a trackless wilderness when your inspiration wears off. (Sadly, it will.) However, when you’re writing a mystery novel, the writing becomes easier, because the crime forms the spine of your novel, or short story.
When you’re writing a MTS novel, you have two plots: the plot of the crime and the plot of the sleuth solving the crime. You know where you need to end up — your sleuth solves the crime, so writing a great novel is less stressful.
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Word for word, mystery authors earn more than authors of most other genres, including romance.
Check out our new program, “Write Your Bestseller: Write HOT Mystery, Thriller & Suspense”. You’ll discover how, why, and what types of mystery fiction are selling today, and how to develop a mystery writing career.
Why write serial fiction?
Everyone's busy today. A serial is by its nature, faster to write, and publish, than a novel.
It's a quicker read too, and many readers appreciate this. While a reader may hesitate before committing hours to a novel, he can read an episode of your serial in minutes.More info →
I developed the tactics and strategies in this book to help myself. My students have found them essential to producing both fiction and nonfiction almost effortlessly.More info →