Creating an Outline for your Mystery Novel

canstockphoto12820650Writing a nail-biting mystery novel begins with putting together a solid outline. Sometimes, though, that’s easier said than done. Right?

Here’s the outline I use when starting one of my murder mysteries. It follows the basic mystery genre formula but asks some questions to get the creative juices flowing. Character motivations, plot direction and the all important ending are established. Obviously, as the story is written, it may veer slightly to the left or right, and develop some unexpected twists and turns. But, that’s the fun part.

Mystery Novel Outline

I. Set-up (Possibly back story)
   A. Main Character has a single goal to accomplish
   B. Murderer has a motive to kill the victim
   C. The victim affected many character’s lives
        – Suspect #1

– Suspect #2
– Suspect #3
D. Supporting characters
E. Romantic or controversial subplot

II. A murder is committed
A. How?
B. Why?
C. Where?
D. How did the Murderer cover it up?

III. Main characters are brought together
A. Location/setting
B. What brings them together?
C. How is the victim’s body discovered?
D. What is the Murderer doing?
E. The Main Character’s goal can be achieved by solving the murder

IV. Suspects are revealed
A. Suspect #1 had a score to settle with the victim
B. Suspect #2 has something to gain by the victim’s murder

C. Suspect #3 reveals a startling deception
D. Clue #1 points to the Murderer
E. How does the subplot evolve?

V. Suspects are eliminated
A. Suspect #1 is innocent. Why?
B. Suspect #2 is innocent. Why?
C. Suspect #3 is innocent. Why?
D. Clue #2 points to the murderer
E. Clue #3 points to the murderer
F. The subplot has a major impact on the characters or Main Character

VI. Final Confrontation
A. Murderer is revealed
B. How?
C. The murderer & cover-up are explained in detail
D. Main Character and Murderer duke it out
E.Main Character’s life is in jeopardy


8 thoughts on “Creating an Outline for your Mystery Novel

  1. Pingback: Hiding the Murderer in Your Mystery Novel | JC Gatlin - Author

  2. Pingback: Endings: Crisis, Climax & Resolution | JC Gatlin - Author

  3. Pingback: Rules for Writing a Mystery Novel | JC Gatlin - Author

  4. Pingback: Useful Links for Murder Mystery Writers

  5. Pingback: Endings: Crisis, Climax & Resolution

  6. Pingback: The key to writing a solid murder mystery outline | JC Gatlin - Author

  7. Reblogged this on MacGregor's Pen and commented:
    I’m currently in the throes of kicking around ideas for a murder mystery, and I stumbled upon this excellent post by JC Gatlin. Since I have a bit of a hectic weekend, I thought I’d use this as my weekly update. If you enjoy the content, make sure to subscribe to JC’s actual blog at

  8. Pingback: Plotting Helps

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *