Tips on Writing Mystery Part 1: I Want to Write a Mystery

By. Brandon Lang

Recently, I developed an itch. An itch that was born in the back of my mind and now has slowly scratched its way to its forefront. It has nestled there, ensuring that I can not ignore its presents, and at the moment, I can’t say that I dislike its company. As long as I have been a storyteller, I have been submerging myself in the familiar pool that is the Horror genre. It’s fun to scare and be scared by things that are impossible or that should be familiar to us until we view them from a different angle and perspective. Until that itch tempted me to step out of that vast pool that is the Horror genre and dip my toe in the mystery genre pool.

And now, the only thing I really want to do is write a mystery.

            As someone who hadn’t written a single mystery before, I didn’t know how to approach the writing process or the plot. So, I did some reading and watched some videos; believe it or not, I still don’t know what I’m doing. However, I developed some nuggets of advice that may help anyone else who wants to dip their toes into the genre. So let us start and see if we can solve the mystery of how to write a mystery or be confused together.

What Type of Mystery Do You Want?

            Let us start with the first question that came to my mind. What type of mystery do you want to write about?

            There are many different subgenres of mystery fiction, such as police procedurals, historical detective fiction, Noir, etc. I could continue the list, but I hope you get what I’m trying to say here; there are many types of mysteries that you can write about. For this post, I want to look at three types of mysteries: Fair-Play Whodunnit, Clueless Mystery, and Reverse Whodunnit.

Fair-Play Whodunnit are mysteries where the reader is there right with the detective. The reader is provided with all the information that the detective has. So, if the reader is smart enough, they can solve the mystery alongside, or before, the detective. This means that the mystery is often reduced to a logic puzzle that anyone can solve, even if they are knowledgeable of the genre. At the same time, moving away from knowledge or skills that are more specialized such as information that only a criminologist or an expert in medieval art.

Father Ronald Knox made something called the “Ten Commandments” of Fair-Play Whodunnit. Some of them are good advice, while others are not. Knox wrote this in 1928, so my advice would be to take what works for you.

Clueless Mystery is a type of mystery where the reader doesn’t get all the information the detective has. This is where we see our world-famous detectives, such as Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, where the enjoyment is not from personally solving a mystery but watching a certain character solve it. A common trait of the Clueless Mystery is having the story told by someone who isn’t the detective, the Watson to the Sherlock.

Reverse Whodunnit is also known as “How To Catch Them”. This is where the reader already gets the information on who, what, where, when, and why. So, instead of the reader wondering who did it, they wonder how the detective will catch the criminal. It is crucial to ensure that the detective and the criminal are very intelligent. It is the chase that will grab the readers’ attention.

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