Writing mystery novels requires a lot of thought. The aim is to keep the readers guessing right until the last page. Twists and turns are required to keep the readers engaged and on their toes. To achieve this you need to go through a meticulous process of planning and presentation. It all inevitably begins with one thing:
Read, read and re-read
The easiest way to learn this process is to read, read and re-read a ton of mystery books. Once you have read through a book go back to page 1 and dissect it. Pay close attention to how the writer has given subtle hints, clues, and even red herrings to throw you off the trail.
I can assure you the last thing you want, is for your readers to solve the mystery without even getting close to the end. So misdirections are a vital cog in the clockwork of a mystery novel. Plan your mystery novel in a way that results in both, your hero and the reader, taking wrong turns to end up in a blind alley simultaneously. This means keeping the reader in the thick of the action. False clues will also add fun and suspense to your novel helping you keep the reader gripped.
Another thing to look out for when re-reading other novels is how the author controls the information; what details do they reveal, when do they reveal the details and how much do they reveal. Sometimes the readers are given more information than the hero. The description of scenes can intentionally lead to clues or even red herrings which the reader can actively pick up while the main character in the story misses them. The readers will feel like they are part of the story, making them carry on turning the pages.
So learn the tricks to keep your readers guessing until the end from other successful writers.
Plan, plan, and plan
Mystery novels come in different styles, each with a different mystery to solve. It could be a gruesome murder, a high-stakes robbery, or any other intriguing crime. Whatever you decide for your novel, ensure you have mapped out the details in full.
We’d recommend using one of LivingWriters one-click writing templates to get started:
Have a clear picture of your mystery. What’s the puzzle that needs to be solved? Does it make sense? Will the reader be interested in this mystery, Is it engaging enough for them to carry on reading till the end? You need to satisfactorily answer all these questions.
Who and why?
Identify the guilty party and flesh out their character. Understand their motivations and relationships with the other characters. The motive for the crime needs to be believable. Think about their emotions and avoid stereotypes.
For this, make all your characters as human as possible. Don’t just restrict yourself to developing the culprit. Make a list of potential suspects and their possible motives. Having many suspects in your novel will help muddy the waters and keep your readers guessing till the end. In short, have a stellar cast who play off each other to deepen the mystery.
Where and when?
Use the crime scene and the settings of your novel to increase the suspense and thrill of your mystery. Crimes occurring in familiar cities or even unsuspecting places can captivate your readers as they hunt for one clue after the other. The surroundings can have an impact on the atmosphere of your novel so use this to your advantage. If you want, have important events taking place at fascinating locations.
Great mystery novels are believable. Readers can relate to the narrative and the characters. Another aspect of making novels believable is knowing the workings of the crime in question. For example, If it’s a robbery, know the ins and outs of robberies. Research your crime and add a touch of realism to your mystery novel.
Keep Track and Organize
The last thing you want to do is lose track of the twists and turns. Those little minor details you hid in Chapter 1 should come to light in Chapter 10 and amaze your readers. But if you’re not keeping track of these details, it’s easy to forget.
Use LivingWriter’s notes panel for chapter/by/chapter notes as well as universal notes pertaining to the entire story. We’ve made it easy for you. Check out this video for more on using LivingWriter Notes.
Write write and write
Once you have carefully planned your mystery novel it’s time to put pen to paper. Most mystery novels start from the crime scene, briefly mentioning the crime before moving on to attempting to solve the mystery with the hero. Some include flashbacks to revisit the crime scene. However, you decide to structure your novel, be sure to revisit your novel with a second draft.
A second draft is where the magic is released. Just like how re-reading novels by other authors helped in noticing clues and red herrings re-reading your own writing will allow you to inspect your mystery. Add or rearrange clues or provide extra information wherever you see fit to gradually build up a breathtaking finale.
And finally, don’t forget to do all of this on the best online writing software, LivingWriter.
Further Reading: Best Selling Authors Reveal Their Daily Writing Habits