We were going to write a short blog detailing the best ways to write a murder mystery novel. Where to start? What to say? but as we were doing our own research we came across a blog that absolutely nailed it. Dusty Baxter-Wright posted this article for Cosmopolitan a few years back and we thought we would share it with you.
1. READ YOUR FAVORITE CRIME FICTION AUTHOR TO SEE HOW THEY DO IT
“The best writers are also avid readers, who hone their craft through the books they love. Ask yourself key questions as you read, such as: what crucial bits of information are set out in the first three chapters? What makes the characters compelling? What makes the plot gripping? Chapters often end with a cliff-hanger, for instance, to make sure the reader keeps turning those pages!”
2. GET THAT ‘KILLER HOOK’
“Most murder mysteries have a short punchy idea that makes the reader want to dive into the story. It often involves a ‘what if’ question: What if you’re the sole survivor of a crime, but you can’t tell anyone because you’re in a coma? (Sleepyhead, Mark Billingham). Think in ‘what ifs’ and find your incredible hook.”
3. START WITH AN INCIDENT
“Don’t open your book by describing the weather or having your main character set off to buy milk from the supermarket – unless something shocking happens. Begin the book when the action is already underway, you can always fill in any gaps as the plot unfolds.”
4. CREATE TENSION IN EVERY SCENE
“You don’t need ‘action’ all the time – tension can be created in all sorts of ways. Try confrontation between characters, misunderstandings, moral dilemmas or unexpected events. In my novel, The Evil Beneath, instead of taking trophies from victims, the serial killer leaves something significant behind each time.”
5. PLAY FAIR
“Remember to make sure all the clues to solving the murder are in your story somewhere, even if they are cunningly tucked away. Scatter your clues throughout the book, but don’t draw attention to them. When the case is solved at the end, if the investigator knows something, the reader should too.”
6. CREATE AN UNUSUAL DETECTIVE
“It doesn’t always have to be a police detective in a murder mystery – it can be a psychologist, journalist, lawyer or teacher, say, instead. Think about an area in which you have insider knowledge or where you know people who do. Crime writer, Peter James, regularly joins the police diving team in Brighton, so he can bring authenticity to his novels.”
7. GIVE YOUR CHARACTERS RICH BACKSTORIES
“Your reader must care about the victim, the murderer or the investigator in your story. In order to feel connected, they must be able to see a little of themselves in the main characters. Give them something to hide to make them interesting. You could even consider an ‘unreliable narrator’; such as someone who has lost their memory or who is manipulative in some way, so the reader doesn’t know who to believe.”
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8. ADD THAT *BIG* TWIST AT THE END
“Readers like to be shocked, especially when they get to the end of the book. Can you turn things on their head in the final few pages, so the culprit is the person least likely to have committed the crime? The killer needs to have a clear motive and be someone embedded in the story, not a fleeting bystander or your reader will feel cheated. Plant red-herrings, but make sure everything is fully explained at the end.
9. PUT YOUR BELOVED MANUSCRIPT IN A DRAWER FOR A MONTH
“You’ve written ‘The End’ and now you want the world to read your story, right? Stop there – this is probably the hardest part! Take a long break, then re-read the novel. Fix the sections that are clunky, make the pace drag, or are plain boring! Cut them all out. If you do this, you will undoubtedly produce a better book! You’ll tighten it up and bring the story alive. Then ask someone you trust to read it, to get their opinion and check for mistakes. Only then, when you’re happy with it, should you send your finished manuscript to a reputable publisher. They don’t require you to have an agent so you can submit to them direct, but remember they do get hundreds of submissions every month, so those final changes could make all the difference.”
Then sit back and be proud. No matter what happens to your novel – you did it!