Rules for Writing a Mystery Novel

canstockphoto9200023Like any good game, there are rules to writing a good mystery. The author challenges the reader to solve the crime before the detective. The reader expects there to be clues leading to the correct answer, and trusts that everything will come together in the end.  So, for the author to play fair, these rules must be followed.

Rules to Writing a Good Murder Mystery:

  1. The crime must be a murder. Burglary, kidnapping, extortion and the like make for great thrillers, but only murder makes a mystery worth solving. Personally, I like to begin with the murder, then introduce the sleuth and start the investigation. However, there’s nothing wrong with having the murder occur before the story begins, or introduce the sleuth, victim and suspects, then have the murder occur.
  2. The murder must be believable. In other words, the motive, means and opportunity all make sense, and the culprit must be physically and emotionally capable of committing the murderer.
  3. Introduce both the detective and the murderer early on, preferably within the first three chapters.
  4. The detective must solve the mystery using only rational and scientific methods that, if observant, the reader could equally solve the mystery with the same information.
  5. Provide at least three genuine clues that point to the murderer’s identity. These clues don’t have to jump off the page, and probably shouldn’t, but they have to exist, none the less.
  6. Wait as long as possible to reveal the culprit, ultimately in the penultimate or final chapter.

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