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Saturday, July 30, 2016

5 Secrets to Writing a Great Mystery

If you’re a regular Muffin reader, you’ve probably figured out that I never work on one project at a time. Never. I’m always roughing something out, taking something to final and contemplating something new. One of the manuscripts lurking in the back of my brain is a mystery. I’ve never written a mystery before so I was thrilled to find Susan Spann’s post on mystery writing. Here is a small part of what I learned.

1. Great mysteries start with great detectives. If you’re contemplating your first mystery, you may be noodling over the crime. That’s well and good because mysteries do focus on solving a crime but truly central to the story is a memorable detective. She doesn’t have to be Sherlock Holmes or Phryne Fisher but she has to be memorable and part of what makes her memorable is . . .

2. The damage that’s been done. Great detectives have something they are trying to overcome. For some it is alcoholism and a partner killed the day he was supposed to retire. For others it is a missing sibling, a less than stellar childhood, or physical injury. Whatever it is, give your detective something to struggle with as she seeks to solve the crime.

3. Do it in a big, grand way. Your readers will have read not only mysteries but the daily news. Cold as this may sound, you can’t serve up a death that’s ho-hum and ordinary. You need to give your dastardly deed a bit of panache. Come up with a murder and a victim that you can make intriguing and/or colorful. This is going to take a bit of . . .

4. Planning makes perfect. From the crime and victim to the murderer and the big reveal, carefully plotted mysteries don’t just happen. Your mystery is going to take careful planning. If you’re a pantser like me, you may have to overcome your natural tendencies but, in truth, it is the only way to pull together a solid mystery.

5. Rewriting makes perfect. Even you plotters and planners are going to have to rewrite because there will be things you’ve missed. Be sure to fix them in the rewrite, planting red herrings, leaving the murder weapon in plain sight and otherwise creating the carefully crafted work that will pull readers in.

If you’re thinking about writing a mystery, be sure to read Spann’s original post. Me? I have damage to uncover. As she stands, my sleuth is a little too perfect to darken the pages of a mystery.



  1. Sue--I wish I was drawn to writing a mystery, because this was great advice. I rarely read them and I have no interest in writing them. However, your post made me consider the reasons why I love the few mysteries I have read or watched (in movie form).

    Thanks for the post, Sue, as well as the link.

  2. Sioux -
    Mysteries are so intimidating to write! But I've seen how many characters you can handle. If you wanted to do it, I bet you could pen a mystery.

  3. I'm currently working on a very lighthearted middle grade mystery (okay I'm not really working on it but I should be!) Thanks for the tips!

  4. Margo,
    I understand that kind of "progress" completely. Fingers crossed that it soon draws your attention.


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