Tuesday, April 16

5 Rules For Writing A Murder Mystery: Keeping the Murderer Secret Until The End

5 Rules For Writing A Murder Mystery: Keeping the Murderer Secret Until The End

It seems like a contradiction of sorts, I love reading murder mysteries--whodunit's--but I've never written one.

I think about writing one from time to time, I've even started to sketch an outline, but I lose interest. It's a puzzle. I don't understand how I can love to read something but have no real desire to write one.

So it was with eagerness, and perhaps a wee bit of envy, that I read  Price McNaughton's guest post on how to write a murder mystery, Keeping the Murderer Secret until the End.

Price writes:
When I first began writing murder mysteries, my biggest fear was that I would reveal the murderer too soon. I hate books that make the perpetrator evident from the moment he/she steps onto the page. I didn’t want to be guilty of the same!
Price's solution was to make up his own set up rules for mystery writing (I'm paraphrasing):


1. Know who your murderer is and why they did it.


- What was their goal?
- What are the stakes?
- What motivates the killer?

By the end of the story make sure you've answered these questions in your manuscript.


2. Leave clues


The clues "do not have to be obvious or even fully explained. You'll want to leave some "mystery in your mystery."


3. After you finish the first draft add in clues where needed


Price's tip:
Red herrings are much easier to add in after the book is written as long as you don’t write yourself into a corner with your characters, such as explaining everything they do and why.

4. Don't fully explain everything


Price writes: "Let your characters retain some mystery."

People aren't fully explained any more than they are wholly good or bad, your characters should reflect this.


5. Your protagonist doesn't have to know everything, at least not right away


Like you and me, it's okay if your sleuth doesn't have all the answers and is unsure about what happened ... as long as she gets there in the end.

Question: Have you written a murder mystery? What are your rules?

Other articles you might like:

- How To Write Episodic/Serialized Fiction, Part 2 of 2
- Larry Brooks On The Structure Of Short Stories
- What Slush Pile Readers Look For In A Story

Photo credit: "7:08 AM" by dicktay2000 under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

4 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this Karen. I read crime, but I don't write crime. I write comedy, but don't read comedy. I hope one day to write a good old fashioned murder mystery, perhaps set in the days before detection became scientifically procedural.

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    1. "I read crime, but I don't write crime. I write comedy, but don't read comedy."

      Ah! I see I'm in good company then. (grin)

      "I hope one day to write a good old fashioned murder mystery, perhaps set in the days before detection became scientifically procedural."

      I hope you do, I'd love to read it.

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    2. I write murder mystery games full time, and the rules there are very different to books - but I'm working on a novel now as well, and am basically using the same rules outlined above - oddly... with a game I plot everything out intricately... with the book I don't even have a plot plan - I'm just writing and seeing where it takes me. I have no idea who the murderer is yet myself! (probably not such a good idea... but when i write games, sometimes as I write them, the murderer changes mid-way along...)

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    3. Joanne, that's fascinating! I hope one day you write a blog post about your job and your writing.

      I've heard that some mystery writers don't decide on a murderer until the end of the book. They make it so one of three or so characters could have done the crime and then, at the end, pick one. Then they go back and plant in the appropriate clues.

      Do met me know when you publish your book, I'd love to read it!

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