Saturday, August 01, 2015

Three Tips for Writing a Mystery

This week’s guest blogger is Kate Jaimet who is the author of the YA mystery Endangered, coming out this month from Poisoned Pencil Press, and several other books for middle-grade and teen readers. Poisoned Pencil is the new young adult series for Poisoned Pen Press.

Visit Kate at her website at

Three tips for writing a mystery

Hey, buster. Wanna know a secret?

Yeah, yeah. Us author-types are always trying to blow smoke in your eyes, make you think that writing a novel is some deep creative mystery. Well, here’s the truth kiddo. It’s a craft. Like making a pair of shoes. Yeah, you gotta put in some time. You gotta learn some technique. And the more you practice, the better you get. But here’s the thing: it’s not like you gotta be born with a silver pen in your mouth, if you know what I mean. Any schmuck with a decent command of the English language and a helluva lotta perseverance can learn to write a mystery. And guess what? Because I like your face, I’m gonna give you a few tips.

Tip #1: Start with the dead body. You don’t got a mystery till you got a dead body. So start right there. In media res, as that Greek philosopher fella used to say. Throw some clues around the murder scene. Bring in your detective. Now you’re rolling.

Tip #2: Move the plot backwards and forwards. Think I’m getting all fancy on you now, huh? Soon I’ll be throwing around writerly words like “peripeteia” and “denouement.” Nah, all I’m saying is that lots of first time writers only concentrate on unraveling the murder that already happened at the beginning of the book (see Tip #1). Whodunnit? Why? How? Those questions are important alright, but unless you also have some forward motion to your plot, your book’s gonna end up boring. Think about what the suspects are doing while the detective tries to solve the case. Do they try to cover their tracks? Cast suspicion on each other? Get rid of eyewitnesses? These type of plot points (yeah, yeah, there I go tossing around writer jargon) can move your plot forward at the same time as the detective unravels the back-story.

Tip #3: Develop your detective. Who are the main characters of a murder mystery? The murderer and the dead guy, right? Only problem is, one’s dead and one’s trying to fly under the radar. That makes character development a little problematic. So who else have you, the writer, got to work with? A bunch of deadbeat suspects and, bingo! the detective. Readers love great detective characters. Think Sherlock Holmes. Perry Mason. Okay, even that blue-haired Marple lady. Spend time coming up with an interesting detective character. It’s worth your while, especially if you’re planning a series.

So there you have it. Three insider tips on how to write a mystery. Now here’s another one: glue your butt to a chair.

And good luck, kiddo.


Vicki Delany said...

Wow, Kate, I didn't know you were now writing for Poisoned Pencil. Well done!

Charlotte Hinger said...

This is sure fire advice. Thanks.

Kate Jaimet said...

Hey Vicki,
We meet again!! Yes, my first novel with Poisoned Pencil is coming out this month. I'm planning a formal launch at the Ottawa International Writers Festival in the fall.


Jade Graham said...

All I have to do is give them something to react to, a problem to solve or a goal to achieve – and a reason to care about the problem or goal.

Brandy Lehmann said...

You should try to take a look at this article where collected cool tips on writing.