How to write a Mystery



Crime/Mystery is an incredibly popular genre. In fact it makes up a gigantic chunk of the fiction market. The BMCC libraries have entire areas dedicated to their Crime/Mystery collection. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there are also books dedicated to mastering the art of writing Mystery.

John Hamilton, writer of ‘You Write it: Mystery’ is just one such person who has dabbled into the ‘how to guide’ on the genre. Now this book can be found in the Junior section at Katoomba, but don’t be fooled by its simplicity, it harbours quite a few gems. Some of my favourites of John’s suggestions on Mystery writing are listed below.

Plot: “Some of the most beloved characters of fiction come from the Mystery genre,” states John. “Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot… the list goes on and on.” But there is more to Mystery fiction than memorable characters. “Mysteries are mainly plot driven. Unlike a lot of mainstream fiction, they contain strong stories that are propelled by exciting events that leap across the page. Many mysteries are ‘whodunits’, delightful puzzles that readers love trying to solve. Mysteries also explore the dark side of human nature, wrestling with fascinating subjects such as murder, violence, and justice.”

Setting: As with any genre of novel, having a good setting is as important as having a believable character. In fact, as John brings out, setting almost becomes one of the characters. “Be sure not to limit yourself,” he states. “A Mystery can take place almost anywhere… limited only by your imagination.”

The Hero: “In Mysteries, heroes come in many flavours,” states John. “Private eyes, amateur sleuths, police professionals. Some are hard boiled and tough, while others rely on their intellect to solve crimes. As a writer, keep in mind the one thing all these heroes should have in common: they should be likable.” They also must be capable, “competent enough to solve the crime on his own, without calling in the cavalry.”

“Give him a personal stake in the story. The reader will be much more engaged if the hero is personally threatened by the villain in some way,” states John. “This is why in fiction so many villains kidnap or threaten the hero’s family members.”

And lastly but most importantly, give your character flaws! “This makes them seem more human and interesting,” states John. “Readers will root for heroes if they can relate to their fears and insecurities.”

The Villain: When it comes to villains in Mystery Fiction, John states that one of the most important aspects of having a good villain is having a good motive. “Why is he angry enough to rob a bank, or commit a murder? Show why the villain behaves the way he does… If you can humanise your villain in this way, the reader will become more emotionally involved with the story.”


Happy writing. 🙂



Source: You Write it: Mystery by John Hamilton.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s