The Mystery of writing a mystery!


Truth time!  I have been in a writing funk lately and hoping you can help me out.

You see, I desperately want to become a plotter AND I have always wanted to write mysteries.

So, what’s stopping me?

My inability to plot, that’s what!  

Don’t get me wrong, I love the meandering, wandering, casual way I currently write.  My method is simple and so much fun.

  1. Come up with a character I like– find some pictures on Pinterest of what that person would wear or where they would live.
  2. Come up with a setting or location– read about that place, watch travel videos, etc.
  3. Invent a smart villain– I’m not into random psycho’s – my villain’s have class!
  4. Watch what happens in my head and write it down.

Oh, so easy!  Oh, so fun!  And this method has produced two completed huge novels and two shorter novellas and several short stories.  In short, watching the movie in my head has served me very well, but, but…..

A mystery novel doesn’t work that way.

In a mystery you need the following( note – this is my own list, compiled after years of reading every mystery I could get my hands on!) 

  1. The crime and it needs to be a murder.  Let’s face it, someone has to die.  Sure you can add in other crimes like robbery or blackmail, but no one is going to rush out to buy a book about to find out who stole the jewels unless somebody gets killed in the process.
  2. The detective.  Someone has to figure it out.  Years ago I watched this British detective series on PBS and every single week the mystery was solved by a confession.  The killer just gave up(I’m guessing he/she was getting frustrated by the length of time the detective was taking to figure it out) and they would suddenly yell, “Yes, it was me!  I did it!”  Then the detective would look up in shock and say, “Well, of course I knew that!  But please explain to me how you did it.”  LAME! LAME! DOUBLE LAME!  But, in a good mystery,  someone to follow the clues and keep you straight, because you have to go to the store and the doctor and clean the house, so it’s tough to keep track of all the clues.  Your detective should be interesting and smart.
  3. The suspects.  My rule of thumb is give me three (3) good suspects.  And by “good”  I mean plausible.  Don’t give me a wandering psycho who is insane and if just passing through town.  NO!  They need to have a reason to kill which I believe.  Money, sex and fear are all good motivators, no matter who the suspects actually are; nuns, car salesman, soccer moms or Navy seals.
  4. The clues.  Yes, give me clues!  I will devour them like candy!  There are two types of clues- a.) actual clues, which point to the killer and b.) red herrings, which are used for misdirection. Mary Roberts Rinehart wins the award for delivering the best clues ever.  She was wonderful about giving you each and every one and slipping them in the narrative so casually, you could never be sure if it was an actual clue or a red herring.
  5. When the mystery is solved, it has to make sense.  I can’t tell you how many paperbacks have been returned to the bookstore(yes, I’ve done it!) because of the ending.  To be clear….the eighty-six year old woman CANNOT scale the electric fence no matter how many times we have seen her walk the mall, the kindest man in town CANNOT suddenly reveal he flew into a fit of murderous rage when we have seen him be kindly and calm for the last 200 pages and above all the murdered CANNOT say, “I’m not sure why I did it, but I just did.”  Yes, someone wrote that and I got my money back.

Hence my problem…….

To write a mystery, I need to plot and plan and be organized and clear and thoughtful.

And it’s not easy, but I’m trying!

I will keep you posted on how this process is going.  Who knows, maybe you will have a suggestion or two- or at least cheer me on.


On the case!


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