How To Start A Mystery Story Examples – From whodunits to unsolved crimes, here are more than 70 mystery writing prompts that will keep your readers engaged from start to finish.
The mystery genre is about collecting clues and evidence to solve a crime or mystery of some kind. Common mysteries to solve can include murder, kidnapping, robbery and any other unsolved crime. The fascinating thing about a mystery story is that until the end of the story, no one knows who the real culprit is. And the big reveal at the end always surprises the reader. The secret to a good mystery is in the plot twist. You need to be two steps ahead of your readers – get inside your readers’ heads and think, “Who do your readers think is the main culprit?” Then change it, and choose someone who is unlikely to be the real buddy.
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How To Start A Mystery Story Examples
You can choose a random prompt from our mystery writing prompts generator below to practice your plot twist skills on:
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When writing your mystery story, think about the characters you’ll be including carefully before diving in. We even recommend creating character profiles for each character, and maybe a mind-map to show their connection to the crime in question.
List of more than 70 mysterious writing signs, from unsolved murder cases to things that disappear in time:
Did you find this writing mystery helpful in writing your own story? Let us know in the comments below!
Marty the Wizard is the master of Imagine Forest. When she is not reading a lot of books or writing some of her own stories, she loves to be surrounded by the magical creatures that live in the Imagine Forest. While living in his tree house, he devotes his time to helping children around the world with their writing skills and creativity.
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‘Mystery’ itself has many meanings. As a literary genre, a mystery is ‘a novel, play or film that deals with a puzzling crime, especially a murder’ (
Mystery, generally, means ‘secret or obscurity’ and ‘a person or thing whose identity or nature is puzzling or unknown’ (
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So although a classic murder mystery like an Agatha Christie novel involves the confusing nature of solving crimes, any book can have elements of the confusing and unknown.
In a fantasy novel, for example, a villain’s true identity (or the extent of their powers) may be a mystery from the start. In a romance novel, the identity of a mysterious, desirable stranger may be the main mystery to begin with.
. Suspense is ‘a state or feeling of excited or anxious uncertainty about what might happen’. It is an important part of
The unknown, criminal perpetrator is one of the most obvious types of secret identity. But hiding isn’t just reserved for criminals. In Charles Dickens
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Dickens leads us to believe that the benefactor is the rich Miss Havisham, but we later discover that the real benefactor is another, more sinister character.
In this case, Dickens hides the perpetrator of a non-criminal act, and the revelation forces us to rethink all our (and Pip’s) assumptions about
, protagonist Viola is separated from her twin brother Sebastian in a shipwreck off the coast of Illyria. He disguised himself as a man named ‘Cesario’ to serve a local duke while searching for his brother.
This concealment creates tension, as the audience wonders when Viola’s real gender will be revealed and her gender performance will be revealed. A love triangle between the characters, the Duke (loved by Viola/Cesario) and the woman the Duke loves (Olivia) further complicates the narrative tension.
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Learning how to write a mystery means learning to ‘use’ suspense. Drop small revelations like a trail of crumbs for readers. The killer lets go and we know the size of their shoes, the pattern of their tracks.
These little ‘giveaways’ are useful because you can milk them for added suspense and mystery. For example, perhaps the pattern of treads in a track indicates that the wearer has unusually small feet for a person.
This can lead to the detective being distracted all the time by the size of the suspects’ feet. Earlier revelations loaded additional action and encounters with meaning and possible significance.
The technique of creating plot points – planting information like puzzle pieces – is key to creating suspense. When you create incidents that reveal little, ask ‘why?’
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Think of the chains of revelation and how they stack up. To take the trace example above, a sequence might be:
No discussion of how to write a mystery is complete without a ‘red herring’. A ‘red herring’ is information that leads a character (and the reader) to the wrong conclusion. This is
What we may think is of great importance in the beginning. But eventually it turns out that we are led to false assumptions or suspicions. Solving a mystery depends on following clues and associations, and clues can lead your reader to dead ends.
For example, a suspect may have a specific item in their possession that belongs to a homicide victim. This makes them more suspicious by association. But there may be an innocent reason why they own this number.
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Once you establish the main unknown (for example, the disappearance of a character), every small event or action can be imbued with meaning. From flashlights at night to seeing strangers acting suspiciously near a crime scene, anything can cause additional uncertainty.
When you show unusual or strange actions without immediately explaining their significance to the reader, you make your reader think.
Near the beginning of the season, the viewer sees the local therapist Dr. Lawrence Jacobi spray shovels of gold. The action is quite scary and we wonder what this act is
. In the context of a murder mystery, we can associate the shovels with suspicious activity (such as digging a hiding place or grave).
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It turns out that Jacoby is a conspiracy theorist who drums up fear about the government and pharmaceutical companies on his regular podcast. He also sells his golden shovels to his followers, through an infomercial where he stands in the mud and holds one, and tells the viewers to buy a golden shovel so they can ‘dig’ themselves ‘out of the dirt’. The build-up to the strange ritual of spraying paint shovels turns out to lead to wild humor that pokes fun at hockey advertising.
The example above shows the power of delayed explanation, sometimes. Remember to trust your reader’s patience and imaginative ability to come up with their own interpretation of events until you discover the ‘real’ meaning.
We can discuss how to write a mystery purely in terms of genre and literary terms and devices. But how we use language itself is also key to creating tension.
For example, placing the ‘a-ha’ moment of a sentence in the last clause causes the sentence to develop in the revelation. Example:
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It’s unusual (although there are one or two brands that use a similar design), and if it wasn’t for the manufacturer’s logo (the letters are barely legible) printed in hardened mud only on the outside of the rear window, the The detective may have no idea what kind of shoe was left in the footprint. But he knew exactly the type (gombots, “Ander Day” brand), and even the location of the supplier’s factory – just a mile from town. He’ll get there before closing time if he hurry.’
If we read the sentence and examine its outline, we can see how it piled up questions before answering some. Each item creates questions: a)
? c) Why is the manufacturer’s logo important? Only when we get to ‘this particular print’ is it clear that a character is trying to find further leads from a track.
Delaying revelation in sentence construction and scenes is a simple but effective way to keep your readers guessing. But balance building sentences like the above with shorter, simpler ones. If we make each sentence long and climactic, the effect starts to wear off. Save this technique for moments of high intrigue (like a detective caught in complex thinking, piecing together evidence).
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Similarly, when building a mystery scene, delay key revelations for the final paragraphs and sentences, so your reader has every reason to turn the page.
For example, take this scene: A detective visits a local dive bar. The owner tilted his head slightly to a man who was sitting drinking alone in the corner, saying, “You want to keep an eye on this.”
This short exchange creates immediate excitement and curiosity. Why does a person of interest drink alone? Did they engage in shady dealings? Or are they just troublemakers who might interfere with investigations?
Keep the characters’ motives in mind when writing dialogue to create tension. Maybe, for
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