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What Makes a Mystery?

Updated on June 27, 2012

First You Need an Idea

The idea bulb
The idea bulb

Looking for Ideas?

Ideas come from everywhere. What is going on at the neighbors? Read a headline in the newspaper and turn it into an idea. What are hot topics today? Recession can be an idea if you tell how it has effected someone. Bullying is a hot topic. Today's fashion could lead to any number of topics. Look around you. Go to a park and people watch. Watch people at the local supermarket. The fires in the west are a huge topic, can you make it into a story? How did they start? Is someone trapped? What is it like for firefighters? What's happening in your life? Can you turn it into a mystery? Make a list of everything that comes to mind and see which one takes you someplace.

You Need a Crime

What happened here?
What happened here?

What Happened Here?

First who lives here if anyone? How did the window get broken? Was anyone hurt? Is this the home of illegal aliens? Strangers to the neighborhood? Someone who looks different? Is it a crack house? Is it an abandoned house? There are tons of stories here. You just have to see which one fits. Write a description of the house where the window is. Give it a family or lack of a family. Write about the neighborhood. Was there something leading up to the crime?

Someone Call the Cops

Tape off the crime scene
Tape off the crime scene

Police Have Arrived

Who are the investigators? What have they found? Who have they talked to? What theories do they have? This is where the action happens. They have to follow the clues. They have to talk to witnesses, neighbors, friends, family, anyone who might know something. Write about your investigators. Give them personalities. How do they interact with each other? How do they do their investigation? Is one a hot dog? Are they by the book? Are they dirty? Do they have families? How do their jobs affect their personal lives? Where are they in the department pecking order? Are they serious or comedic? They are your characters, make them real. Give them flaws. Maybe one is overweight and one is trying to quit smoking. One could be single the other married. Don't leave your reader guessing.

You Need Clues

Keys to what?
Keys to what?
Was a weapon involved?
Was a weapon involved?

Do All Clues Need to be There?

Clues are what get you from crime to solution. But are all the clues going to lead you in the right direction? Not usually. If they had keys, why break the window? Or are the keys to something else? Is that what your perpetrator was looking for? Did they find them? Was a weapon involved? Was there a body in the house? Did the police break the window because they saw a body? There are many things you can do with clues. Ultimately they must lead you to a conclusion. They will be used or discarded when you get to trial. They keep the story moving as each one needs to be checked out thoroughly. And sometimes they will take you where you never even imagined.


Someone is arrested.
Someone is arrested.

Do You Find the Criminal?

The police make an arrest. Can they make it stick? Is this really the person? Is this a red herring...something that gets in the way of the truth? Does the criminal get convicted? What are the circumstances of arrest? What are the circumstances surrounding the crime? This is where you build to your climax. It is what your reader has been waiting for. The person arrested is someone they've already met. Are they going to believe this person did it? If not, why? If this person is a false lead, you had better have an awesome follow-up that leads to the real crook.


Someone goes to the Big House
Someone goes to the Big House

Final Wrap-up

This is where the person goes to trial and is judged by his or her peers. Write about the court room. Tell us about the jury. Are they torn between believing in the person's innocence and guilt? Is this case a slam dunk? How does your criminal act in court? How do the lawyers act? What are the results? Do they come up with a plea deal? Does the jury convict. This is time for the resolution. Don't leave your reader hanging. They will nail you for that every time.

So what are you waiting for? Give it a try.


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    • HLKeeley profile image

      HL Keeley 5 years ago from Charlotte, NC

      This is great. I especially liked how the questions you asked reflected the pictures. It reminds me of exercises in creative writing class. We would get a picture and we all had to write a story to it. We then read another person's story out loud to hear how our perspectives were all different to this one scene.