Ingredients for Mystery

As a book buff and a writer, I am inclined to say that I know what are the necessary elements to creating a good mystery. I like all types of genres, but there are some that pull at my heartstrings more than others. Writing any kind of book can be challenging, and involves a great sense for picking the plot, creating suspense, and characterization. Having a story that engages readers and encourages them to solve the mystery requires several elements.


First and foremost it’s a fresh cup of coffee.




Constructing a Strong Hook

man typing

Any novel requires an effective hook: your reader should be invested from the first page to the last. The hook of the book is usually an image or line used to create questions and curiosity to make readers want more. Someone once recommended to me that a great hook should be in the first sentence, paragraph, page, and chapter, paying close attention to the minute details. You should also ask yourself the following:


Are you grabbing the interest of the reader with a tease of more?

Are you posing a question the reader strongly wants to be answered?

Are there any potential conflicts to turn the protagonist’s world around?


But, I must stress that at the end of the day, rules are meant to be broken and if you can manage to set up mysterious tones in other ways, you have carte blanche to do so and attempt to gain the interest of your readers. As you begin to look beyond the initial sentence, your first paragraph introduces more of the atmosphere, mood, and setting. During the first chapter, buildup the mystery with brevity. If you give the reader everything at the beginning, it may not leave them wanting more.


Make Your Readers the #1 Detective of Your Story


With a good mystery, the reader should be trusted enough to cobble the pieces together to gather the information necessary to solve the caper. Assume that your reader is fairly intelligent enough that you won’t need to hold their hands through each chapter and risk over-explaining. Make the readers an active part to solving the riddle. Ways to do that include:


Leaving clues throughout the story

Mixing trustworthy characters with sneaky ones and letting the reader decide the integrity of each

Provide multiple explanations as a possibility. In short, that means you should have a few suspicious characters thrown into the mix. For certain types of adventures, you can even have supernatural elements as part of the plot.


Using Red Herrings

 Agatha Christie novel

The term refers to a piece of information that is intended to distract the reader and is a term borrowed from training dogs to hunt by using dried herring that turns run upon smoking. You can place them anywhere you want in your mystery to keep the readers slightly thrown off the scent and to make it all the more riveting. In one classic Agatha Christie novel, ten people are left to die one after the other on a remote island. At the end, one member that disappeared is accused of being the murderer, but there are plot twists along the way. For example, the following can be a red herring:


A character perceived as more suspicious than the reality

Anything that seems to carry more significance than it actually does or will

An event that seems important to the story, but later is deemed secondary or tertiary

A clue left by the villain that leads readers potentially astray


Suspense is one of the key elements to writing a mystery because nothing can increase a reader’s anticipation and curiosity more.

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