I’m not writing a mystery novel for NaNoWriMo this year, but I’m sure you know how much I love mystery and that I do write a lot of it.
I run a Mystery Month on this blog and 9 times out of 10, I write a mystery for NaNo. So, if you’re writing a mystery novel this month, here are some tips.
1. Do your research.
It sounds a bit weird to research how to hide a body or how long it takes a body to start to smell if left out for too long. Still, you should fact-check. Despite it being fiction, you should always have that little bit of truth in there. Know what you’re talking about and when your characters are investigating a crime, do the real world some justice.
2. Know your genre and sub-genre.
There are so many different sub-genres of mystery. You’ve got your cozy mystery, you’re courtroom drama, whodunit stories, and much more. Which sub-genre does your mystery fall under? Sure, you can mix them up, but it always helps to define what kind of mystery you’re writing about.
3. Keep your readers always guessing.
Red herrings are a lot of fun, if they’re used in the right way. Red herrings are fake clues thrown in just to throw the detective and the readers off the hot trail. It’s great for a “wow” factor when the real clue is finally found and it certainly keeps the readers interested.
4. Know the crime inside and out.
Whether you like to outline or not, it never hurts to plan out the crime before you write. If you have a basic idea, know the who, what, where, when, why, and how of the crime. It’ll help you keep track of what’s going on, keep a list of clues and evidence. The more you know and understand, the easier it will be to convey to your readers.
5. Should your readers be able to figure it out? Make it so, but not too easily.
I’ve read my fair share of mystery novels. Some are easy to figure out, some are hard. Some I don’t figure out at all. It’s up to you whether you want to make it so your readers can investigate and infer who the culprit is. You can let them be detectives or just keep them guessing throughout. Every reader has a preference. Either way, you should explain everything to a certain extent in the end.
6. Motive is key.
I’m sure everyone knows that motive is everything when you’re trying to charge someone for a crime. Why did they do what they did? Sometimes the motive isn’t always clear. Sometimes the motive can be a red herring for a suspect. However, there should always be some sort of connection, personal or otherwise, to the culprit and the crime.
7. Give unique and thorough backgrounds for your protagonist and antagonist.
This sort of goes along with the previous point. Why did your antagonist do what they did? And why is the case important to your protagonist? Usually, when a detective solves a crime, they have some sort of connection to it somehow, or it reminds them of something from the past. There are a lot of cliches to watch out for (such as the detective who lost his wife prematurely or something), though some of them can still work depending on how you weave it in.
8. Remember, good is not always good and bad is not always bad.
People do good things for bad reasons and bad things for good reasons. But is it really good or bad? Is your protagonist an anti-hero? Is revenge their motive? It’s up to your readers to decide.
Are you writing a mystery novel for NaNo? What other tips can you come up with? Let me know in the comments below and we’ll chat!