How to write a mystery story?
Mystery is probably one of the most widely enjoyed genres of literature across the globe. The spine-chilling details of a murder, the constant anticipation and the hair-raising suspense make it almost addictive. A well-written mystery can easily keep the reader up all night, unable to drop the book until the very last page.
Be it the Nancy Drew books we read as school kids or the thick Dan Brown books, or the classic tales featuring Sherlock Holmes, there is a lot that goes into writing a good mystery. It does follow the same basic structure as any fiction. There are some extra elements that are integral to it.
Here are the steps to help you write a mystery novel or story that keeps your readers on their toes till the very end:
Start with a hook: Unlike other genres of fiction, mysteries usually start in the middle of the crime scene. Capturing the reader’s attention right in the beginning is important to get them hooked.
It is a common practice to drop the readers in the middle of intrigue on the first page itself. You can use flashbacks to loop them in the back story and context. At the same time, keep the action in the present going. This creates an interesting dynamic that is impossible to pull away from.
Describe the setting effectively: Settings are key in all kinds of literature but even more so in mysteries. The location of the crime, the neighbourhoods of the characters, each alley or corner in the town should be well described. The idea is to pull in the reader as if they are watching a movie.Creating highly vivid descriptions of the setting is also important to allow the reader to actively take part in the puzzle solving. Make sure you research very well about the locations you are using to keep things as real as possible.
Focus on character development: Mysteries are incomplete without a sleuth, which is the character that investigates the crime or the mystery. It is through their eyes that the readers see the story unfold. So, it is crucial to make this character more than just a stereotype.
Ensure that the sleuth in your story is relatable, with a unique personality and also some character flaws. Also, give them a good enough reason to take up the investigation if they are not a detective or a police officer.
Apart from that, your culprit too should have a pretty strong and believable reason to commit the crime. Make sure that there is some back-story about the victim that is revealed as well. The relationship between the culprit and the victim should be such that makes the crime realistic.
Use cliffhangers: A cliffhanger is a tool that writers use to intensify the plot. It originated from Thomas Hardy’s novel, A Pair of Blue Eyes, for the novel ends with a character hanging from a cliff, literally. The term is used for endings of stories or chapters/scenes without a clear end but rather, right before the point of revelation or climax.
To understand it better, imagine that the sleuth in your story is a young girl who is walking in a dark alley all by herself. Suddenly, she comes across a masked man with a gun in his hand, pointed at her. At this very moment, the chapter ends, leaving the reader hanging off a cliff and desperate to find out what happens next.
This tool is great to keep your readers turning pages with curiosity and a compulsive urge to find the answers.
Use red herrings: A red herring is another brilliant tool to make your plot more complicated and unpredictable. It means that you keep distracting your readers away from the real culprit by making them doubt other suspects.
When writing a mystery, you keep working with clues predominantly. Bring about situations and a series of details that start to point at a certain character as being the culprit. Then, let them come clean. Follow this a few times to create suspicion on other people, so that the reader cannot guess the real culprit too soon.
Having said that, make sure that the final revelation of the culprit is not too out of the way either. Ensure you have laid out enough clues that allow the revelation to look believable. You just have to let those clues be subtle so that they don’t give away the ending.
Research well about the crime: It is a huge responsibility on the shoulders of mystery writers to research extensively about the crime they are portraying. There is nothing worse than an unfeasible or poorly executed crime in this genre of fiction.
Make sure you research and make notes about the crime so well that you know it like the back of your hand. Do not skip reading up about the intricate details of it, else the execution will look unprofessional.
Lastly, maintain suspense and let the reader play an active part: It may look obvious but it is important to remind that suspense is the heart and soul of a mystery. Keep things engaging by not letting the readers find a conclusion too easily or too soon.
Also, do not do all the work for your reader. Mystery readers like to play an active part in the investigation. Show, don’t tell. Lay down the situation, the clues, and the possibilities in front of them, but let them work their brains as they fit the pieces of the puzzle together.
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