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Blog 5 Top Tips on Writing Mysteries for Young Writers

5 Top Tips on Writing Mysteries for Young Writers

By Clara Vulliamy | Guest Blog, Top Tips, Writing Tips

5 Top Tips on Writing Mysteries for Young Writers

In the first story of my new series The Dog Squad, young reporter Eva finds a stray dog outside her house. Can she, along with her best friends, find his real owner? But does she really want to, because won’t that mean they have to give him back? A heart-stopping mystery unfolds, with many twists and turns.

Constructing this kind of story is a very particular task. Here are my five top tips which every mystery-writer for children should know…


The synopsis needs to be rock solid and really tight. I resist the temptation to get carried away with lots of detail until I have locked down the plan very carefully, seeding the clues throughout the narrative. Some clues are well-hidden, some less so – both is good, the reader feels clever to have spotted something first, ahead of the characters.


Even if you’re not the illustrator and can’t draw to save your life, a sketched-out map - for your own purposes - can be really helpful. You need to work out who is where, and when. You might need to look at line of sight, too (could they see the vital clue from where they are standing?). You are the playwright, director and stage designer all rolled into one. You are deciding who enters stage left, who exits stage right, and who is hiding behind the sofa…


No matter how ingenious the mystery, your readers will only care if they are invested in the main characters. Give lots of attention to rounding out their personalities, their likes and dislikes, their funny quirks and foibles. Make the friendships meaningful, and the dialogue sparkle and shine.


Be old school, not high tech! Yes, you can do everything on your phone these days. But not every child in the world has a phone, and nothing ages more quickly than the latest gadget or App, by publication day already out of date. Instead, opt for notebooks and scraps of paper, a torch, a ball of string, a tape measure…
In my series Dotty Detective, the methods of detection readers enjoyed most were the invisible ink made from lemon juice, and the flour sprinkled on the floor to detect footprints. Don’t forget, parents and teachers are looking for content they can use and adapt. Dotty’s secret code alphabet inspired a great many school activities - and I still get letters sent to me in code, which is the loveliest thing.


Try to avoid revealing a surprise at the end that the reader couldn’t possibly have seen coming. The classic example is when, with no previous hints or indications, an identical twin walks into the room in the very last scene– "so there were TWO of them all along!" The reader has done the work, they deserve at least the chance to correctly predict the ending. If a carefully-plotted grand finale is a genuine surprise, that’s fine. The reader can look back over the clues, thinking to themselves, "ah, I did wonder why they didn’t want anyone to look in the broom cupboard – now I know it’s where they were hiding the rabbit!"

Good luck with your super-sleuthing, clue-concealing, cleverly-crafted mysteries. These books are SO MUCH FUN to make, and to read. You will have your audience gripped from page one!

You can purchase your very own copy of The Dog Squad here!


Published: Fri 25th Aug 2023

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