The Best Way To Plan A Crime In Your Mystery Novel [Mystery Month]

I’ve written this post a couple times now. Every time I do, it’s always so popular so I like to rewrite it each year for Mystery Month.

Keeping track of a crime when writing a mystery novel can be hard. There’s a lot to remember – clues and evidence, witnesses and suspects, the overall timeline, and more.

The best way to figure it all out and keep track of it is to answer some important, but fairly simple questions.

The best way to plan a crime for your mystery novel | Mystery | Creative Writing | RachelPoli.com

Who

The who can be a number of people. Ask yourself, Who is the…

  • Victim
  • Culprit
  • Accomplice(s)
  • Witness(es)
  • Suspect(s)
  • Detectives, officers, assistants, anyone solving the crime
  • Friends and family of the victim
  • Friends and family of the culprit
  • Person who discovered the crime

What

The what is the general term for the crime and anything else going on. Some things may not be known right away, but they’ll come to light eventually.

  • What happened? (What is the crime – murder, robbery, etc.)
  • What are the key items? (murder weapon, evidence, etc.)
  • What was the motive?
  • What happened before the crime occurred?
  • What happened after the crime occurred?

Where

Location is everything and sometimes it’s not where it seems.

  • Where does the story take place?
  • Where does the crime take place?
  • Where was the crime found? (Sometimes, bodies are moved to trick investigators into thinking the murder happened in a different place.)
  • Where were the clues and evidence hidden?
  • Where was the culprit hiding?
  • Where were the witnesses when the crime occurred?
  • Where was the victim when the crime occurred? (If a robbery, where did they go?)

When

Timing is everything. When it comes to a solving a crime, figuring out the timeline of events is important.

  • When did the crime occur?
  • When was the crime discovered?
  • When did the authorities arrive at the scene? When were they called?
  • When do the investigators find the clues? Piece together the evidence?
  • When does the culprit get caught? When does the crime wrap up?

Why

The motive is the driving force behind the crime. If there’s no motive, then you pretty much have a flop of a crime.

  • Why did the culprit commit the crime?
  • Why did the culprit choose their victim?
  • Why is the investigator the best one to solve the case?
  • Why does the investigator agree to solve the case in the first place?
  • Why does the crime take so long – or short – to solve?

How

How everything is constructed makes it believable and aids the timeline. It answers last minute questions that anyone may have in and out of the story.

  • How long was the investigation?
  • How did the culprit plan it out? How did they commit it?
  • How was the culprit caught? (Or get away?)
  • How did other characters react to the crime?
  • How did the investigator figure it all out?

A lot of the questions are similar to each other or pretty much mean the exact same thing, but I always find it helpful to comb through it all multiple times and make sure you’re consistent with yourself.

How do you plan the crimes in your mystery novels? What are some other questions you’d ask? Let me know in the comments below and if you enjoyed this post, please share it around!

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How To Plan The Crime In Your Mystery Novel [Mystery Month]

We’ve talked about this before, but I think it’s always good to revisit old chats. In fact, this is the third time I’m revising this post!

If you know me, you know that I prefer to outline my novels before writing them. While freewriting is fun, I like to know where I’m going with my story. I don’t like to get stuck, I just like to write. Sometimes it changes, but I have a basic idea.

When it comes to writing a mystery novel, when there is a crime and something has to be solved, it’s easy to know what exactly is going to happen ahead of time. Otherwise, you may end up with a baffling case – in and out of the story.

How To Plan A Crime In Your Mystery Novel | Mystery Month

Even if you don’t like to outline, planning out the crime in your story is always a good idea. When you read books or watch movies, what are some things that the detectives look for?

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

Who

There are a lot of people involved in a crime. Make a list of all the necessary characters who will be involved in the case.

  • Who is the victim?
  • Who is the culprit?
  • Who are the witnesses?
  • Who are the suspects?
  • Who are the accomplices?
  • Who are the detective or police officers?
  • Who discovered the crime(s)?
  • Who are the family members and close friends of the victims?
  • Who are the family members and close friends of the culprits?

When it comes to writing a mystery, each character in the story should be tied in with the case somehow. If they don’t have anything to do directly with the case, then they may not be needed.

What

The “what” can be used as a general term for the crime.

  • What happened? (What’s the problem – murder, robbery, etc.)
  • What are the key items? (Murder weapon, stolen item, etc.)
  • What was the motive?
  • What was the victim and/or culprit doing right before the crime occurred? What happened after?

When

Time is everywhere. It’s important and it’s essential to a mystery novel, especially if there’s a dead person involved.

  • 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?
  • When do the interrogations begin/end?

Where

Set the scene for the crime, the clues, and the overall story. Paint a big picture, allow your readers to be there with the detective to help solve the crime.

  • Where does the overall story take place?
  • Where does the crime take place?
  • Where was the victim(s) when the crime took place?
  • Where was the weapon(s)/stolen item or person?
  • Where was the culprit(s) hiding?
  • Where were the witnesses when the crime occurred?

Why

Knowing the why of everything that occurs tells the whole story. Without the “why,” there would be no story.

  • 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 does your investigator take on the case in the first place?
  • Why did the crime take a long (or short) time to solve?

How

Knowing the “how” is crucial to anything. You want to make your crime as realistic as possible so that all the clues are filled in and your readers end the book with a nicely tied bow at the top. Reasons for why things happen and how will help guide your readers into believing your story and getting into it.

  • How long was the overall investigation?
  • How did the culprit pull off their crime?
  • How was the culprit caught?
  • How did other potential victims get away?
  • How did the culprit get away?
  • How did other characters react to the crime?
  • How did the investigator figure it out? (How did they finally piece it all together?)

Unless it’s true crime, mysteries are typically fictional. Still, when it comes to investigating a case and finding a dead body that’s been cold for a while, you should be accurate. Get your clues and facts straight and maybe your readers won’t notice that you’re just a humble mystery writer.

What are some other questions you can think of? Is this how you plan out your crimes when writing mystery? Let me know in the comments below!

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