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Blog Top Tips For Writing A Murder Mystery

Top Tips For Writing A Murder Mystery

By Lis Jardine | Guest Blog, Top Tips

Top Tips For Writing A Murder Mystery

Author Lis Jardine shares her top tips for writing a murder mystery!

Murder mysteries have always been my favourite comfort reading. There's nothing quite like the thrill of the chase, and the hope that maybe I'll work out who the killer is before the author tells me. I read hundreds of murder mysteries - everything from Sherlock Holmes to Monsier Poirot to Daisy and Hazel at Deepdean School - before I started writing my own, and I heartily recommend that you do lots of reading too. You'll absorb loads of ideas and writing techniques without even noticing!

When you're the writer, you want to keep each reader guessing, and surprise them right at the end. Here are some ideas for how to make your murder mystery a twisty puzzle that defies explanation...

1. The Setting

Many older murder mysteries are set in posh country houses or exotic holiday locations, but all that really matters is that there aren't too many people coming and going. A satisfying murder mystery has a short list of possible suspects - sometimes even locked in a room together! Think about where you spend time that has limited visitors - I chose a school, but you might write about a football club, a snowed-in family Christmas, or a bus full of passengers.

2. The Victim

This is something of a 'why' question. Why would your victim be attacked and killed? What have they done, seen or heard that makes them a target? Make up a whole backstory about the victim's life, including as much detail as you can, before you start to plot their murder.

3. The Villain

Not all evil arrives looking mean and cruel. Your villain should be difficult to spot - and somewhat unlikely as a desperate criminal. What secrets are they hiding that lead them to take violent action against your victim? What kind of a person are they really - and what do they want in life?

4. The Weapon

In Cluedo, the weapons are brutal, efficient things like a rope and an axe and a knife. In your murder mystery, things can be less clear cut than that, and it all adds to the suspense and complexity. How could you make your murder look like an accident? How could your victim be lured into a trap? How could your time or place of death be misleading enough to send your readers off on a wild goose chase? The less obvious you are, the harder it will be for your readers to guess the right answers...

5. The Detective

In many ways your detective is the glue that holds your whole story together. They need to be interesting and believable, intelligent and probably very nosy, but everything else is down to you. Are they official - a police detective - or an onlooker who gets drawn in against their will? Are they a meddlesome adult, or a bored teenager looking for entertainment? Is there a team all working together and bringing different skills to the investigation? Each choice you make will affect the way the plot works out, and the way your detectives(s) come to the solution. What information do they have access to? What do they have to do to get more?

Writing should be FUN, so make sure you include lots of things that interest you personally and even make you chuckle. There is always room for a laugh, even in a murder mystery!

Take a look at our character fact file to help you create a character for your murder mystery story! You can purchase a copy of 'The Detention Detective' here! You can follow Lis Jardine on Twitter here!

Published: Fri 6th Jan 2023

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