Made in America

Tips For a Great Mystery and Crime Novel

There are many things to consider when writing a mystery, crime, and suspense novel. How do you hook readers in and deliver a story that is different from all the other mystery novels out there? Here are some tips to write the next great mystery.



Vivid setting

Help your readers get into the story with strong descriptions and images of where they are. They will not feel the suspense if they can’t see the space the characters are in. Establish the geographic location of your story early. Establish what it looks like: urban or rural? What is the weather like? Imagine the places where the story takes place – the police station, the scene of the crime, the main character’s house. Sketch out these places ahead of time with words – or perhaps draw a picture!


Research and plan

Mystery and crime is not a type of story to write off the top of your head. Research the crime you plan to put at the center of the story ahead of time. By knowing the ins and outs, you can write it in a way that is believable and serves your plot. If something is completely unrealistic or off the wall, readers will disengage. Study real life examples of the crime and other novels with similar crimes or happenings at the center. Have details mapped out as to what weapons, motives, timelines, etc. are involved. Go ahead – link everything with a red string on a corkboard!


High stakes

No one will care about the mystery without a reason to. The stakes of the story must be high, and must be raised often in the story. For example, what is different about this murder that makes it so important to solve? What is going on in the main character’s life that makes the mystery important to them? Once the story develops, keep raising the stakes to keep the reader in suspense. Add new revelations, twists, and surprises until you arrive at the climax of the plot. 

Believable suspects

The best way to keep a reader guessing in a mystery novel is to have multiple suspects for a crime, or multiple answers to the mystery. Not only must there be many possibilities, but they all must be believable. Believable suspects for a crime will naturally occur if you develop well-rounded characters and stakes for them. Think about what each suspect might stand to gain or lose from committing the crime or being at the center of the conspiracy.


Avoid cliches

Avoid cliches in both your characters and plot. Sometimes cliches are good, but sometimes they might work against separating your book from others in the genre. If there is an opportunity to do something different, do it. Not every detective has to be a depressed alcoholic, for example. 


Overall, a mystery/crime novel today must not be afraid to be bold and new. Loyal fans of the genre will keep reading if you offer something unique. There are many ways to take a classic murder mystery and make it your own. 


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