I absolutely love love love murder mystery books, always have done always will. I truly enjoy being drawn through a scenario of did this happen or that? How did it happen who did it and why? Being fed tiny pieces of information – slowly learning more about the different characters suspects and the main detective.
It doesn’t really matter what type of detective novel it is – by that I mean where its set or the heaviness of the book.
I enjoy murder mysteries that are more on the light hearted side – which is probably the wrong way to describe it but think Poirot or Miss Marple. I also enjoy the heavy dredge, where its always raining, the detective is depressed and people are hanging on by a thread. Or the thriller murder mysteries where the detective is after the serial killer but will they find them before they get killed themselves? All of them are great in there own different ways.
One of the main reasons that I love them so much is that I love trying to figure it all out. Trying to figure out whats a red herring, whats a real clue, what an earth any of the suspects are doing at any time. I have always thought that anyone who can write a murder mystery must have a very intricate and organised mind. To be able to put something together and then to slowly unravel the story to a reveal.
So to help me understand this better I did some reading about how to write a murder mystery and I thought I would share some of the tips I discovered below.
- Double the outlines
Have two outlines, one that the readers see, so this is the story as it is read and outlines the actions of the sleuth as they are travelling through the story and solving the crime.
The second outline is the story that the readers don’t see and is all the background details. What all the suspects or secondary characters are doing while the detective is elsewhere. This enables the author to ensure that timelines marry up and characters are where they are meant to be while the sleuth is elsewhere.
The outlines need to be thorough and have no gaps.
2. Make sure you know your clues
Red Herrings – this is a clue that misleads or distracts from a relevant or important issue. These keep the reader guessing and they lead readers or audiences towards a false conclusion.
Genuine Clues – these point to the killer and help the detective solve the crime.
Pivotal clues – these are the lynchpins upon which the solution turns. They give the final piece (or pieces) to the puzzle and, ultimately, solve the crime. These do not always have to be at the end. They can be earlier on but the significance can only be realised at the end.
3. Do you like your sleuth?
The sleuth must be likable or interesting or have something that makes you care about them. This is the main character and they will be at the forefront of the story the whole time. If they aren’t likable in someway people are not going to want to follow them through the story.
4. Get the murder in early
The murder is expected to happen at the beginning of the book, most articles / authors suggested in the first three chapters. If people are waiting too long for the death they are likely to get disinterested (morbid although true).
5. Multiple suspects
Its easier to have multiple suspects and they all must have something a bit dodgy about them. Something that’s making them behave erratically or like they have something to hide.
If you took the murder out, there should still be a story.
7. Is the solve believable?
Actual reasonable and believable methods must be used to solve the crime. Unless its based in a fantasy world where it still must be possible to understand how the crime was solved, and it shouldn’t be random intuition. This may take a lot of research (but probably quite interesting research).
8. She did it – are you sure?
The culprit must be capable of the crime, your readers must believe that the villain is a villain and not be unsure or incredulous when they they revealed.
So those were the tops tips that I found while looking into how to write a murder mystery. Do you enjoy crime novels? – have you ever tried writing one? – I would love to hear any tips that you have.