A good mystery will leave you guessing. Often when you read a puzzling novel you are left wondering what is going to happen next. You never want to put the book down. But what if you want to write a mystery novel of your own? There are many ideas that would benefit you in writing a novel, and I have broken them down into five steps.
First, start your story off with a BANG! When starting your novel, there is always a worry that you have enough information for the reader so that when they are reading your novel, they understand what is going on throughout the story. You need to make sure that it all flows together, and it is cohesive. When someone is reading a good mystery novel, they want something that makes the book tense, so when you are writing your novel make sure that it is suspenseful; you want your readers on the edge of their seats and left to wonder. For example, you can create a villain, be unpredictable, and apply pressure to the situation at hand. This is what draws them in and keeps them captivated while reading. Because who’s going to read a mystery novel if they are able to figure out what is going to happen before it even happens? If you start a mystery off with a huge problem that keeps snowballing, the reader will be more inclined to keep reading in order to find out what is really going on. Readers want to be able to peel back the layers.
Second, the more imagery, the stronger your novel will be. You want the book to come to life. From the color of the leaves on the trees to how the sand feels in between a character’s toes. You want them to feel like they are living right beside the characters inside the pages. When someone is reading your book, they want to feel like they have stepped right into the middle of it. With as much description as possible, you can easily achieve this goal.
Third, give your character a story! The main character is the person that the reader is following throughout your novel. In a good mystery, the main character is usually the person who is trying to solve the conundrum at hand. Depending on what age range you are trying to reach, make the main character the person who you know will speak to that group of people. You always want the main character to have something that a group of people will be able to relate with. This will help the reader keep reading. For example, in the Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling made sure that you knew every little detail about Harry all the way down to the lightning bolt-shaped scar on his forehead and his broken glasses held together with tape in the middle.
Fourth, try to contrast suspense with something that is funny. When you use humor to counter the suspense, it brings another aspect to a story that might otherwise be flat. Sometimes humor can even make a tale darker than it was before. Sometimes making light of the situation that the characters are in lets you see into their world. Humor is a great way to change up the action. Think about it. When your life feels like it is in a downward spiral, what is one way that you can counter it? You make light of your situation. This is our defense mechanism. Doing this helps you feel a little bit better even for just that moment. The main character of your novel is feeling that same tension. Adding some humor can help make the story seem more realistic.
Fifth, avoid cliché plotlines! There are many clichés when you are writing a mystery. It’s always easier, for instance, to have the murderer be someone who the deceased knew. In the movie “The Lovely Bones,” Susie Salmon was abducted by next-door neighbor George Harvey. This could be seen as cliché. Think outside of the box. In the end there is always a worry that your story is like someone else’s. The best way to avoid this problem is to do something different that will set your work apart. Sure, it might be scary to go against the grain—however, the payoff will be great in the end.
For more tips on writing mysteries, check out the Writer's Digest website for a list of helpful articles.
Taylor Elizondo is a senior at Calumet College of St. Joseph. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. Growing up she has always been drawn to mystery novels. Today, when she isn’t playing softball for the college team, she spends her free time writing her own mystery short stories. She hopes to graduate from CCSJ with a degree in Communications with a concentration in Public Relations.