Mysteries, thrillers and suspense novels are one of the most popular genres today, but being able to pen a page turner takes more than just a wisecracking sleuth and a rising body count.
These tips will help you to plot the type of mystery novel that will hook readers and keep the writing process fresh and exciting for you.
- Identify the crime: You can’t have a mystery novel without a dead body or two.
- What the victim has to hide: Not every secret is created equal. Selecting tantalizing tidbits that your victim wants to keep hidden can be the key to their murder and in turn, their murderer
- The suspect pool: Perhaps equally as important as the victim is “whodunit”. Find ways to hide the killer in plain sight.
- Suspects have secrets too: Your Bad Guy is acting that way for a reason. What does he or she have to hide and how does the threaten his or her innocence?
- Revelations and how they change things: Weaving a tale of twists and turns is the secret to a successful suspense novel. Find ways to leave the intricacies of your plot into opportune moments of revelation.
The key to a killer mystery story is creating compelling characters with strong motivations, and intriguing secrets which lead to life-changing revelations. Using these tips, you can create a journey that brings readers on a rollercoaster ride of murder and mayhem.
Identify the Crime
It has been said that in a good mystery or suspense novel, the body must show up as close to the beginning as possible. Readers are a picky lot, and if they have to wait too long for the crime they may just give up altogether.
Obviously, the victim is the most important piece of the puzzle when it comes to plotting your mystery novel. Where they are found and how they are killed are other important pieces of the puzzle, but who the victim is and how they are connected to the killer can be the key that your detective, investigator, or curious case solver needs to crack the crime.
What the Victim Has to Hide
The victim’s secrets are usually the reason they are killed in the first place. But that doesn’t mean that every little tidbit of their life is potential fodder for your story.
So, the victim in your story might have a habit of “borrowing” library books and never returning them, but unless that is integral to the story it’s not an aspect that you need to explore.
When thinking about the things that your victim wants to conceal in their life, try to come up with secrets that would be a threat to them if the general public were to learn them, or information that will take your readers and your detective to places that you want to explore in your story.
Choosing intriguing and potentially life-threatening secrets make it easy for you to then select the killer and their reasons for doing so.
The Suspect Pool
While the victim in your story is probably the most important character, the killer as well as the other potential suspects are equally as important. After all, there is no murder without a murderer, and every great mystery or suspense novel has a few well-planted suspects who had nothing to do with the crime.
Offering readers a couple of suspects that you, as the author, know are just there to throw them off the track of the real killer keeps things interesting. But don’t just throw them in for the sake of it. Give them a motive too, so readers will not become frustrated with these little sidetracks but enjoy the intrigue instead.
Suspects Have Secrets, Too
Once you have chosen a few characters that will throw a few wrench into the plans of your detective, you need to give them plausible motivations and reasons that they, too, have something to hide.
This makes their motivations seem suspicious, which automatically raises the tension and makes both your detective and readers alike that much more motivated to figure out the truth.
Your entire novel is based on revelations of all kinds. Who is the victim? Why were they killed and by whom? What did the killer have to gain from getting rid of your victim? And what else is the killer trying to hide?
Once you know the who, what and why of your story, then it’s time to choose the most opportune moments to reveal those tidbits. The trick is doing it in such a way that your readers will have to follow all the twists, turns, and take a trip through the topsy-turvy world you have created.