Mystery writing is all about planning: threading clues throughout your story from the beginning, and making everything ties together nicely – no knots, no missing threads. It can be a lot of fun to write a mystery or thriller or crime-focused novel of any kind – but it can also cause a lot of headaches.

We’ve collected some great advice from mystery, thriller, and crime novelists who have joined us on the podcast or shared their tips and tricks on our blog. Read on for some straightforward and practical mystery writing advice – we promise there are no false leads here!

On plotting a mystery with romance (or maybe a romance with a mystery):
KWL – 278 – Plotting a Cozy Mystery with Alexis Hall

"When I started, I wasn’t certain whether this was going to be a marriage in peril romance with mystery elements or a mystery with marriage in peril romance elements, so I kind of hedged my bets and then sent it off to my lovely editor Rebecca, and we had a conversation and decided it was best to take it in the mystery direction, so she’s a big mystery fan and had some very strong ideas there like include some elements like this. Maybe focus more on this bit. Maybe do more of that. 

So the first draft was a lot less play along at home-able, and then I did quite a long second draft where I added about 30,000 extra words, and that’s the point where I sat down and put in all of the…I took some words out, as well, which is why it’s not nearly as long. And that’s where I sat down and put in all of, you know, very specific red herrings, very specific kind of, aha, and this hint, and there may be a thing here, but it’s really not a thing. It’s really a thing." – Alexis Hall

On when to plot (or when to not):

"Usually I just jump in. I usually know the ending and I have a beginning scene but I don’t know how I’m gonna get there. However, because I write like that, often the ending scene changes from what I thought it was gonna be. And there have been a couple books along the way where I wasn’t sure of the ending, which is a horrible feeling for me, as a writer. I love pantsing, I love the thrill of it, I call it “writing without a net,” you know, because I love that.

However, not having the end, not knowing what the ending is gonna be is very unsettling to me as a writer because I’m not sure where I’m going. And that’s only happened to me a couple of times. However, both times the books turned out great. And, so, maybe it was just supposed to go that way. I’m big on trusting the universe to get me the story, so, I think sometimes some of them are just harder to pin down than others." – Lisa Kessler

KWL – 274 – Writing with Tarot with Lisa Kessler

On using multiple POVs to create suspense:
5 Advantages of Writing in Multiple Perspectives

"This is one of my favorite elements associated with multiple POVs. Well-written chapters that alternate between narratives have the added advantage that I think of as mini cliffhangers. Regardless of genre and whether or not you want to establish suspense, ending the chapter at just the right moment will have readers going nooooo what happened to Bob? Why would you end a chapter that way?! With this type of strategic chapter ending, readers will be left wishing the narrative had not switched to another perspective. Then you get the readers into the next narrative, and the process repeats. I find some of the best multi-perspective novels trigger this perfectly crafted frustration while reading." – the Kobo Writing Life team

On how to approach your first draft:

"… the first draft is generally for you, just to get it all out, to get the story out, to put the words on paper. And it can be total garbage. And that’s okay. Do not hand your first draft to anyone. That’s a really good piece of advice. Do not send it to anyone. Do not hand it to anyone. Let it marinate, let it sit, walk away from it, and come back to it with fresh eyes. Come back to it, if you can, as a reader." – Samantha M. Bailey

KWL – 295 – Writing a Domestic Thriller with Samantha M. Bailey
On who reads crime fiction:
Self Published Title Is Kobo’s Most Read Crime Novel Of All Time

"While the majority of crime readers are not within the millennial generation, the future of crime writing seems to be in their hands. With 25-34 year olds intending to lead the way when it comes to writing their own crime novels, and Kobo predicting a rise in the amount of self-published titles, how and what type of crime books we consume seems set to change. Although characters from the classics still hold the largest place in our hearts, with the younger generation adding new themes such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality, there is always hope that a new ‘Sherlock Holmes’ is just around the corner." – the Kobo Writing Life team

On writing authentic crime scenes:

"Whether your sleuth is a novice or a vet – your crime must be extremely complex in order to keep the reader entertained. When planning the crime, keep in mind it should be something sufficiently violent, yet believable.

As with any fiction – it is crucial to hook the reader early.  Nothing is more captivating to readers than a gruesome, complex, and seemingly unsolvable crime. Try to get to it within the first three chapters." – Victoria Salvas

A Story to Kill for: Writing Crime & Detective Fiction

Feeling inspired to start writing your own (or your next) mystery or thriller? We hope so! As always, happy writing from the Kobo Writing Life team.

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