What should you know when writing a mystery?
November 3, 2017
Each mystery should include a theme that reflects the concerns of your sleuth, the village or the outside world.
When you sit down to write a mystery, these are the twelve things I believe you should remember always.
- Your sleuth should be likable, interesting and resourceful, with a definite personality that includes quirks and personal issues that have yet to be resolved. Your sleuth needs to have a personal stake in solving the mystery.
- Consider your setting a major character. Use your setting well–its geography and flavor, its contrasting neighborhoods, businesses, parks and restaurants. Set your scenes in various locales to avoid monotony. Create annual traditions that are celebrated in your locale. Examples: a parade, a dance, a barbeque.
- Occasionally change your setting. If most of the books in your series take place in a small town, you might have you sleuth solve a murder in Manhattan.
- Your sleuth needs a best friend or confidant with whom to brainstorm. Consider creating a nemesis, as well, to up the tension and add red herrings to the mix.
- A love interest (or interests) spices up your plot and adds another dimension.
- Choose your victim carefully. Why was he/she murdered? What connects the victim to the suspects? Why was the second victim murdered?
- Regarding suspects, have many, with various motives, and with varying connections to the victim(s). Don’t telescope the identity of the murderer, but let your murderer appear often enough so that your reader doesn’t feel cheated when all is revealed.
- Secrets relating to the past are like chunks of dark Belgian chocolate in a chocolate brownie. Every character should have a secret or two. Reveal each secret only when necessary. Use them to your advantage.
- Every mystery should have a theme. Be it a dispute regarding an inheritance, your sleuth’s relationship to an absentee father who shows up later in her life, each mystery should include a theme that reflects the concerns of your sleuth, the village or the outside world.
- Decide what role official crime solvers play in your mystery. Even if you’re writing a cozy series, the police must appear in your books. Is your sleuth friendly with the homicide detective? Do they have an adversarial relationship? Don’t have the police come off as idiots because they’re not.
- Subplots are essential to any novel, including your mystery. They may arise from the theme such as a dispute over land development, from characters in conflict, or from an issue in your sleuth’s personal life.
- Make sure your personal viewpoint comes through in your writing. You are unique. Your voice and your view of the human condition will help make your series stand out.
About Death Overdue:
Carrie Singleton is just about done with Clover Ridge, Connecticut until she’s offered a job as the head of programs and events at the spooky local library, complete with its own librarian ghost. Her first major event is a program presented by a retired homicide detective, Al Buckley, who claims he knows who murdered Laura Foster, a much-loved part-time library aide who was bludgeoned to death fifteen years earlier. As he invites members of the audience to share stories about Laura, he suddenly keels over and dies.
The medical examiner reveals that poison is what did him in and Carrie feels responsible for having surged forward with the program despite pushback from her director. Driven by guilt, Carrie’s determined to discover who murdered the detective, convinced it’s the same man who killed Laura all those years ago. Luckily for Carrie, she has a friendly, knowledgeable ghost by her side. But as she questions the shadows surrounding Laura’s case, disturbing secrets come to light and with each step Carrie takes, she gets closer to ending up like Al.
Now it’s due or die for Carrie in Death Overdue the delightful first in a new cozy series by Marilyn Levinson, writing as Allison Brook.