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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Inspiration Station: Beginning

IS Beginning

Your novel has to go through a certain test before a reader buys the book. The summary on the back cover isn’t enough anymore.

After getting past the cover and title (because let’s face it; we all judge books by their covers when we know we shouldn’t), readers thumb through the pages. Some people read the first couple of lines.

Without even realizing it, they’re checking for the writing style and the type of characters they’ll have to deal with. Is there an info-dump at the beginning? Is the information too vague?

Beginnings are fragile and if you don’t get it just right, it might be what stops a reader from buying your book.

When beginning your novel…

Give us an idea about the plot. Some beginnings can be slow and the plot takes some time to warm up–which is fine–but you don’t readers to be on chapter three and still have no idea what the point of the novel is.

Make sure you introduce a likable protagonist. Give us some background on him or her, but not too much. You can’t give away everything before the novel truly gets started.

Speaking of characters, introduce secondary ones gradually. Let us wonder why those characters are there, why they’re significant in the book.

Sometimes all it takes is one line.

The first line of a novel is the beginning before the beginning. All it takes is that one first sentence to hook the reader in and they continue on.

There are many different kinds of first sentences to help give your beginning a bit of a boost in the right direction.

Dialogue

“What are you doing?” Andrew asked his sister holding open the door, his eyes wide in horror at the sight.

The reader wants to read on because they want to know what Andrew saw. Why did it shock him so much? Also, they wonder what his sister is like if she’s causing her brother to react in such a way. Is this something she does often? So many possibilities open up.

Action

Kyle’s car side-swiped a fence with a piercing screech. It slowed him down, but he was able get going once more as he pushed harder on the gas pedal. He glanced in his rear-view mirror with worried eyes, sweat glistening on his forehead. They were gaining on him.

Start off with conflict right away. We don’t know why Kyle is running, why he’s being chased, or who is chasing him. It’s one of those things that we just have to absolutely know the answer, so we naturally keep reading.

Introduction

He looked as though he was in his mid-twenties. He brushed his sleek black hair out of his face revealing his dark green eyes. Then he bent down and lifted the crate, his arm muscles pulsing from the weight.

Introduce a character. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the main character. From this narration we can assume the protagonist may be admiring the man from afar. The readers want to know more about the man and the narrator. Also, why is the narrator watching the man lift crates? It can’t be that interesting, can it? Then again, his muscles were flexing…

And that’s why beginnings are important.

There are so many other ways to start a story, of course.

Make your reader crave more with each sentence, paragraph, chapter. Before they know it, it’ll be 2 in the morning. They’ll close the book and say, “I want more!”

If you enjoyed this post or found it helpful, check out my post about MiddlesEndings, and Prologues/Epilogues!