Sunday, March 10, 2013

So, You Want to Write a Mystery?

This is going to sound cliché, but it's true: I have always wanted to write a mystery. I have ever since I read the Trixie Belden series when I was 12 and then later, Sherlock Holmes when I was about 14, and then I spent a whole summer watching the A&E versions of Poirot, and through all that time, already a writer--though granted, not the polished word smith you see today--I really wanted to write a mystery!

But writing mysteries is hard. Story writing in general, is not the easiest thing either. You have to work out storyline, characters, relations, plot, flow, conclusion, and all that good stuff. Writing the first book in my Anthony Maxwell series has made it quite clear to me just how much work goes into writing a mystery novel!

I've actually been working on this story since last summer, and I'm still only about 3/4 of the way through. It's a lot of work, but it's definitely probably one of the most rewarding books I have ever written, and I am so very excited to see the case coming together myself, as well as following Anthony's progress as he solves it.

I'm going to share a few little tips for other writers new to the mystery genre. Whether you are new to writing in general or just haven't written a mystery before, you really should look into writing one before you give it a go. I've written tons of stories in some form or other, and created countless characters and plot-lines, but I still had to re-learn a lot of things when setting about writing a mystery.

1. Keep a very well-plotted time-line or outline of events. Even if you are not an outliner (I'm not) I would suggest using one to write a mystery. I do a highlight chart of the events that happen in each chapter, that way when I'm writing, I can use it as a quick reference to look back on instead of having to go back and re-read everything. That way you don't forget an important clue or something that needed to be tied in.

2. Get good beta readers who your trust. You're definitely going to need someone to read over your mystery to make sure it makes sense. This is a good idea for writers of any genre, but for mysteries it's doubly important. No one cares less about a mystery that ends in a lame way, or, even worse, confusing. Get a friend of fellow writer who you can trust to read your story, and help you brainstorm when you get stuck. That way they can help you decide what you might need to change.

3. Read the masters. Pick up some Doyle or Agatha Christie. I just love how they can turn a plot; it's very inspiring!

4. Not everyone might want to do this, but I have been enjoying putting all the clues my detective finds up on my bulletin board, even making newspaper clippings and finding or drawing pictures and clues. It's kind of more of a fun exercise that will help you get into your detective's head, and it actually works really well in sync with your written outline. You have all the clues ready to hand. Just make sure you hide it when you have company, or they might think you're plotting a murder!! ;-)

It's also a good idea to find really good reference books, for writing mysteries in general or good companion books that any mystery writer should have. These are a couple that I really liked:

How to Write a D--n Good Mystery  by James N. Frey. This was the first one I read before I started writing my story (which is what I would suggest to others as well) and it really helped A LOT. I would suggest this one to anyone who is planning on writing a mystery novel.

And then there's Forensics by D.P. Lyle, who himself is a very accomplished doctor and writer so he knows what he's talking about and has written several references for writers. This one is part of the Writer's Digest "Howdunit" series of which also belongs The Book of Poisons which is another invaluable reference to murder mystery writers or those planning on using lots of poisons in their books.

Don't forget to stop by on Tuesday for the second Tuesday Snippet of Anthony Maxwell!

Slainte, Hazel


  1. I love number four! Mysteries are something I write more than any other genre and I never thought of that.

  2. I had fun with it, and I'm going to make a scrap book with all the stuff continuing the series. =)