How To Plan a Crime When Writing a Mystery Novel

A crime is an illegal activity. A crime is something someone commits that is an offense to the law. A crime is a robbery, a murder, assault, kidnapping, etc.

It’s not good.

So. How does one commit a crime?

I’ll tell you how, but only the skeleton of it. The rest you’re going to have to figure out on your own. You can’t expect me to do all the work, can you? No, of course not.

Step One.

Plan the crime before you do anything else.

Step Two.

Now — Wait, what? What do you mean you don’t know how to plan the crime? What are you even doing with your life if you can’t even figure this part out on your own?

Alright, come on…

How To Plan a Crime when writing a mystery novel Rachel Poli

Let’s start back at the basics, shall we?

A mystery is a puzzle, a riddle. Maybe a secret or a problem. A mystery is something of the unknown. The only way to solve said riddle, puzzle, problem, whatever is to ask yourself basic questions.

Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.

Yes, I’m bringing you straight back to elementary school. The only difference is that we’re not trying to write an essay from analyzing a book. No, we’re going much darker than that. We’re adults now.


“Who” refers to people, the characters of the story. Each character has to have something to do with the crime whether they like it or not. Are they a witness? A victim? An investigator? A suspect? Maybe they’re just there to throw the investigator off the trail and take the reader along with them.

Once your have your characters lined up in a row, give them each a job.

  • Who are the victims?
  • Who are the culprits?
  • Who are the witnesses?
  • Who are the suspects?
  • Who are the accomplices?
  • Who are the investigators?
  • Who discovered the crime(s)?


The “what” may not be known right off the bat, but depending on the situation some answers may be more obvious than you think.

  • What is the problem/crime/secret? (What happened?)
  • What was the weapon/what was stolen?
  • What was the motive?


“Where” is how you set the scene for yourself, your characters, and your readers. It’s a little tough to investigate when you can’t see the scene surrounding you.

  • Where does the overall story take place?
  • Where does the crime take place?
  • Where was the victim(s) when the crime took place? (Unless it’s a murder, the victim doesn’t necessarily have to be around.)
  • Where was the weapon(s)/stolen item or person?
  • Where was the culprit(s) hiding?
  • Where were the witnesses when the crime occurred?


Time matters.

  • When did the crime take place?
  • When was the crime discovered?
  • When were the authorities called/brought to the scene?
  • When does the investigator find his first, second, third clues, etc.?
  • When does the investigator solve the crime?
  • When does the culprit(s) get caught/confess?


The reason is key. You need to be able to explain to your readers why this mystery happened in the first place, why it was a good story to tell.

  • Why did the culprit commit the crime?
  • Why did the culprit choose that particular victim?
  • Why was your investigator the best one to solve the case?
  • Why did the crime take so long to solve? (Why did it take not long at all to solve?)


I assume you’re writing a fictional mystery. In which case, your readers still need to know the “how.” Everything needs to fit together nicely like a puzzle and be explained as realistically as can be.

  • How long was the overall investigation?
  • How did the culprit pull off their crime?
  • How was the culprit caught?
  • How did the investigator figure it out? (How did they finally piece it all together?)

Some of these questions are redundant, but I think it’s good to repeat yourself sometimes. It helps you remember and helps you catch mistake or plot holes.

Some questions you may not need. I’m sure there are other questions out there that you can ask yourself that are not on this list.

This is how I plan my mystery novels. I plan the crime before any actual writing begins so I, as the writer, am the investigator.

Now all you need to know is how to implement this crime.

This post was revived from Mystery Month’s 2015 post: Who Dun It? 

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How I Began Writing Mystery

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Via Pinterest

There’s something about mystery that tends to draw people in. The suspense and thrill of it all is very enticing. Yet, I never imagined myself wanting to write mystery novels.

I’ve been writing since I was ten-years-old. The first novel I ever wrote was a young adult high school drama. The second was fantasy with superheroes.

I always enjoyed X-Men, Justice League, Batman, etc. I loved the idea of people with superpowers. Most of my novel ideas surrounded around that. I always thought that was going to be my forte.

Yet I’ve always enjoyed playing video games as well. My favorite being The Legend of Zelda series. The timeline for that series is absolutely amazing. The puzzles are great and the mystery behind the Hero of Time is fantastic. I always had a will to write as great as that.

Of course there are TV shows, as well. I enjoyed watching Burn Notice and Chuck, both shows about spies. My favorite is Psych which is about a “psychic” detective. I always enjoy watching shows like this and try to figure out the ending before the hour is up.

Then I discovered the video game series Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney with my sister, Kris. You play as a defense lawyer where you investigate crime scenes, talk to witnesses, then go to court and clear your client with a not guilty verdict.

This video game was the final push I needed to start writing George Florence, my mystery series. I began writing without knowing too much about the mystery genre. I sort of made stuff up as I went along.

I started reading more novels in the mystery genre when I started writing mystery. For example, I read the Psych series and the alphabet mystery series by Sue Grafton.

There have so many inspirations for my beginning and interest in the mystery genre. However, I look back at old novel ideas that I still plan on writing someday and each one has some sort of mystery or suspense aspect to it.

I guess I always enjoyed mystery, but just didn’t realize it right away.

Inspiration Station: The Perfect Crime

The Perfect Crime

What is a perfect crime?

A perfect crime is a crime that is so carefully planned and executed that it is nearly impossible to solve. With that being said, perfect crimes don’t really exist. It may take a few years to solve a crime, but as far as I know, about 9.9 times out of 10, the crimes are solved.


Can you create a perfect crime in a fictional mystery novel?

As a mystery writer you can certainly leave the readers begging for answers; they’re minds continuously trying to solve the crime long after the book is over.

But, unless you plan on a few sequels, that would be mean.

Sure, you want your readers begging for more. You also want them to be satisfied as well. Readers are a tough crowd, I know.

What elements should you have in a mystery novel?

There are a few key elements needed to make for a good mystery. You can’t really have one without the other, either. All the elements need to work together in order to make the crime work.

A Crime

This is an obvious one. Mysteries stem from suspense and most do that through a crime; whether it’s a murder, a robbery, a kidnapping, etc.

The characters need to be asking questions in order to give the readers a sense that something is wrong. There is a problem, there is a puzzle that needs to be solved, nothing (or not everything) is being explained, someone is keeping a secret.


In order to help solve the mystery, you need to lay out clues for the readers and the characters. Clues can range from objects, such as a weapon, or people, such as witnesses.

The objects are also known as evidence. Anything that can be put in a bag, analyzed, and dusted for fingerprints, it’s evidence.

Of course, statements from witnesses, victims, and suspects are also evidence to see whose story matches and whose doesn’t.

Law Enforcement Figures

Every crime novel needs a few characters in the law enforcement field whether they’re a police officer, detective, lawyer, judge, etc.

The law enforcement needs to be involved in order to solve the crime, discover the clues, and make accusations.


Will the law enforcement team make correct accusations all the time? Probably not.

Every once in a while a clue will be picked up that will lead the investigators down the wrong path. When that time comes, a new clue will pop up steering them in the right direction once more. Or, they’ll have to start back from the beginning.

How can you keep track of each crime?

It’s a lot of note-taking, but as long as you–as the writer–stays organized and keeps notes, your readers will be able to follow easily.

Keep a list of clues, know the problem and conclusion ahead of time, and give each witness and suspect careful statements.

With all this being said, mysteries aren’t too bad to write. In the end, everything falls into place. It’s just a lot of thinking involved. Make your readers think, make them proud when they finally get to the end of the book and realized they solved the crime before the protagonist did.

Writing Prompt:

A detective is called to the scene of a bank robbery. The culprit got away with $100,000. There are no signs of a break-in and there’s some blood on the lobby floor. An elderly couple living across the street are the only two witnesses. What happened?

Related Articles:

6 Secrets to Creating and Sustaining Suspense
Elements of the Psychological Thriller, Mystery, Suspense, and/or Crime Fiction Genres
25 Things You Need to Know About Writing Mysteries

Genre Bingo

Yesterday I talked about finding your genre when it comes to writing.

One of the points I made was to practice with all genres; whether it’s reading different genres or trying to write in different genres.

I love a good reading challenge whether it’s Goodreads yearly Reading Challenge, a Bingo board, a deadline for a book review, or even just a book recommendation.

With that being said, I decided to make my own Bingo board. I have a few, but this one I made is plain and simple. It’s Genre Bingo.

If you heed my advice about reading in different genres, this will be a great way to keep track.

The bingo board includes 24 genres plus the lovely free space that everyone adores. It also has a reading list at the bottom so you can write down which books you read for which genre. I don’t know about you, but I like keeping track of the books I read for which square whenever I do a reading bingo. So I thought I would throw that in there.

Anyway, you can download the Genre Bingo here.

I hope you guys enjoy it! I’m sure I’ll be doing the challenge soon enough.

Inspiration Station: Finding Your Genre

Finding Your Genre


Sue Grafton writes mystery. J.K. Rowling writes fantasy. What do you write?

When you’re just starting out as a writer, there are so many questions to ask and so many decisions to make. Who’s your audience? Is my writing any good? Who in the world would want to buy my stories?

My personal favorite is, what genre should I write in?

This can certainly be a tough one since there are so many different genres out there: fiction, nonfiction, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, suspense, thriller, romance, and so much more. Then there are the sub-genres to worry about.

So, how can you find your genre to write about and share with the world? There are two options.

1. Write in a few different genres you enjoy reading.

I wrote five manuscripts before I decided on which genre was right for me. Two were fantasy, two were young adult drama. Plus, I write my fair share of short stories in multiple genres as well as children’s books, middle grade, and I even tried my hand at script writing and poetry.

Once I started writing my mystery series, I fell head over heels in love. I wanted to continue writing it all the time. The characters keep the story moving, the plot make sense, and I have many more ideas to come for this particular series. I was writing for eight years before I discovered this.

2. Read every genre.

The best thing a writer can do in order to improve their writing–without actually writing–is to read. Do you have a particular genre you enjoy reading all the time? Or do you try to read every book published?

Make sure you read in many different genres. Chances are you’ll find a favorite and come up with story ideas for that genre.

Writing Prompt:

Write in an out-of-your-comfort-zone genre. For example, if you mainly write fantasy, give romance a try.

Related Articles:

How To Pick The Right Genre For Your Novel (And Why Your Sales Depend On It)
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How to Choose a Genre for Your Novels