The Do’s and Don’ts of Writing Mystery

Writing a mystery novel can be quite challenging. It demands keen attention to the usage of various elements such as plot, characters, and of course, suspense. Just like any other genre in literature, mystery fiction has some fundamental rules that authors should follow to create a soul-stirring and hair-raising mystery novel.

JB Clemmens, a veteran mystery reader and author from Pennsylvania, considers and follows these rules in writing her books. Her most recent works, Something Fishy in Manhattan, Mystery at Pima Point, and The Numbered Cups Mystery, all contain riveting stories that fascinate readers and leave them on the edge of their seats. As an author, JB Clemmens knows how to stir the right combination of intensity and intrigue in her writing to fit the demands of the genre.

Like JB Clemmens, you can also come up with your own gripping mystery novel. You should bear in mind, however, that a good mystery novel cannot be produced overnight. You need an enormous amount of time and attention to write a truly compelling suspense story. In addition, you also need to do some research and learn the fundamentals of writing a mystery novel. To help you, this article lists down some of the most important do’s and don’ts of writing mystery that every author of the genre should keep in mind.

Show, don’t tell

Show, don’t tell is a common technique in literature used by authors to allow readers to experience a story through actions, words, emotions, thoughts, and senses instead of through the description or exposition of the authors. It emphasizes the use and demonstration of actions to create a better and more realistic reading experience for the readers. To put it simply, authors who use this technique do not just tell the readers what happened, but how it happened rather.

In writing mystery, the show, don’t tell rule is quite important. Knowing how to illustrate how actions are done and how scenes unfold greatly helps in facilitating suspense in your writing. Do not just tell people what happens in your story, show them. Use your literary prowess to explain to your readers every scene and event in your book in the most vivid way possible.

For example, instead of just writing “She fearfully enters the room”, you can add so much more details and say, “Her heart pounds heavily and her entire body trembles, as she walks past the door.” This way, the readers can have an idea about how frightened the character is. More importantly, the gradual build-up of the scene adds more curiosity and suspense to it.

Create a unique story, don’t use clichés

Authenticity and uniqueness are important in writing mystery. If you want your mystery novel to be truly thrilling and suspenseful, it needs to have a story that no one has ever read before. Avoid using clichés – they make your story dull and predictable. If you fill your novel with clichés, the readers will be left with nothing to look forward to as the story builds up because they have already read everything in it somewhere else.

To write a compelling mystery novel, you need to come up with a unique story. Veer away from using overused story tropes (e.g. a group of teenagers lost in the woods or a hardcore detective tasked to solve the most heinous crime in town).  Otherwise, your novel will most likely flop. Remember, one of the most essential components of suspense is curiosity. If the readers are no longer curious about what happens next in your story, then it makes no sense to call it mystery at all.

Provide backstories to characters, don’t leave the readers confused

Characters are an important element of a story. In writing mystery, particularly, it is necessary to create well-developed characters that guide the overall execution of the narrative. Now, to make your characters well-developed, you need to provide each of them with a backstory or an introduction as much as possible. Do not leave your readers clueless about any character that enters the picture. Otherwise, the readers will become confused rather than curious.

Even though it may be necessary to withhold information sometimes (i.e., for the purpose of proper pacing or foreshadowing), failing to introduce or explain a character often only causes a major destruction to the suspension of disbelief of the readers. So, unless you have a good reason for withholding important information, providing backstories to characters is a must, especially in writing mystery.

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