We all know what goes into a story – plot, characters, settings, etc. However, there’s more to it depending on the genre you write. Since I main in mystery and it’s Mystery Month, we’ll be talking about the 7 elements of a mystery novel.
This goes without saying for every book, but you want the beginning of the novel to really hook your reader. You want them to sink their teeth into the words and frantically turn the pages for more. The hook can be anything though introducing the crime right off the bat is a good way to do it. Of course, not everyone does it that way but do what you think works best for your story. A cliffhanger on the first few pages is a fun way to go too.
Suspense All Around
Of course, you want your mystery novel to be suspenseful. It doesn’t matter what sub-genre of mystery you’re writing it, you want to keep your readers on their toes. The characters need to have high stakes – what if they don’t solve the crime? Or, what if they do? Why is this particular crime such a big deal? What sort of evidence is just evidence or damning evidence?
Red herrings are “leads” that turn your characters (and readers) in the wrong direction. In some ways, red herrings can be pretty predictable. I know a few books and TV shows that the first person they accuse is a red herring because they do it so often. Still, if woven into the book correctly and the evidence line up, red herrings are a lot of fun to write. It added meaningful filler and add some in-depth character development. Plus, it’ll keep your readers guessing.
Strong, Compelling Characters
If you’re going to write a mystery novel, you want to have characters with purpose. Why are they involved in the case? What does it have to do with them and why do they care about it? Your characters need to have meaning or maybe even a personal involvement in the case. The case, in the end, will only make them stronger. During, though, it’ll push their limits.
Evidence The Makes Sense
While evidence can serve as red herrings as well, each piece needs to make sense. You need to connect all the evidence to one person or a group of people as well as to the crime as a whole. Why is each piece of evidence important and what does it mean? If a clue is a red herring then you need to explain why they thought it pertained to the case and what it actually was when they figure out it had nothing to do with the case in the first place. Everything should be tied in together in one way or another.
Part of the fun of reading mystery novels is that I get to play detective. There are some novels where it’s easier to take a look at the crime than others. Depending on the POV of the protagonist, your reader can easily follow along and make their own deductions. Sometimes readers know only what the detective knows or sometimes they’ll know more than the detective and rip their hair out when the detective overlooks something crucial. Still, that sort of involvement is fun, engaging, and adds so much more suspense for the reader.
A Satisfying Ending
Like all good books, we want a good ending. Whether it’s happy or sad, we want it to be satisfying. For a mystery, everything should make sense and be wrapped up neatly and clearly. If there’s a book two, it’ll make your reader rush out to get the next one.