How to Begin Your Mystery Novel

What is the point of the first sentence of any novel? To get the reader to buy the book, of course.

Sure, that’s what the summary on the back of the book is for. But most people flip through the pages of a book before deciding whether or not they want to buy. Some people actually begin reading the story.

Shocking, I know.

So, if you want to grab your reader at the first chance you get, that chance is the opening sentence.

How To Begin a Mystery Novel Rachel Poli

Most mysteries start off dramatically. I mean, if you’re writing a murder mystery I think that deserves a dramatic beginning, don’t you think? Someone was killed, that’s kind of a big deal.

Here are three ways to open your novel:

1. The Crime

Depending on the point of view, you can start the story off with a bang. Show the murder. Show the robbery. Show the criminal running away and the main character pursuing the culprit or suspect. Just be sure not to wrap everything up too neatly too soon.

2. The Discovery

Start with your protagonist arriving at the crime scene. They just got the call that a body has been found and they’re heading to the scene to meet up with the other officers to deduce what may have happened.

3. The Investigation

Show the detective flipping through some files or sitting in an interrogation room questioning a suspect. You can give your readers information on the crime this way without actually showing what happened. We’re already deep into this crime, where will it lead next?

When opening your novel, you want to delve the reader into the crime, into the conflict, as soon as possible. You want them wondering, “What happened here? What’s going to happen next? I guess I’ll read on to find out…”

With that being said, make sure your opening line answers one of these four questions:

1. What does this opening suggest the book will be about?
2. Does this opening develop plot or characters?
3. Why does this matter to the protagonist?
4. How does this hook the reader?

There are different ways to pull off these questions within the first couple of sentences in your novel.

Give your protagonist a problem.

Your main character has a brand new case. What are they going to do with it? How will they try to solve the problem? Why does this matter to them in the first place?

Answers lead to more questions.

Remember, this is just the beginning. If you start off with the investigation, don’t have your protagonist solve the mystery by the end of chapter one or two. What kind of a novel is that? Crimes are hard to solve. One answer will lead to three more questions, more mysteries, more puzzles, more uncertainties. Each answer is harder than the last.

There’s no such thing as a perfect beginning, but there are definitely some beginnings that are better than others.

And while the first line is important, you shouldn’t stress out about it. You can always edit later.

How do you start your novels, mystery or another genre?

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10 thoughts on “How to Begin Your Mystery Novel

  1. Great post. Have you ever used the Columbo approach. On that show, they would very often show you the murder, who did it and how right at the beginning. The show then revolved around how Columbo was going to catch the murderer while appearing to be a buffoon.

    • I’ve never seen Columbo, but I have heard of that before. I’ve never done it, but I do think it’s a cool way of doing things.

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