29 January 2014

10 Tips For Writing A Murder Mystery

I think that murder mysteries are popular because the reader gets to participate in solving the puzzle.  As you read, it’s almost like a contest to see who will solve it first.  The reader or the sleuth!  It’s also fun for the writer to try to create a mystery that keeps the reader guessing till the very end.  So, what are some of the things you need to do to write a good murder mystery?

First you have to decide what type of murder mystery you want to write.  A police procedural with a detective for your sleuth, an amateur sleuth who has a compulsion for being nosey, or a private investigator.  Or you might decide to use a semi-professional like an investigative journalist, for instance.  But whatever you choose, there are certain things that remain the same.

  1. If you have an amateur sleuth, there must be a plausible reason why he/she wants to solve the crime.
  2. Have at least 4 or 5 suspects.  With this many, your reader may very well be surprised by whodunit!
  3. Make sure all your suspects have a motive, the means, and the opportunity to kill the victim.  In other words, it has to be possible that any one of them could have committed the crime. 
  4. Each of your suspects must have a believable motive whether it be jealousy, revenge, greed, etc.  If they don't, your readers will spot it a mile away.
  5. Don't keep your readers waiting too long for the murder to happen.  Whether your victim is already dead when the book starts or later on, have it happen within the first three chapters. 
  6. Distract your readers with red herrings.
  7. Create a character who your sleuth or detective can discuss the case with. 
  8. And here is a golden rule.  Your readers must know everything that your sleuth or detective knows.  In other words, don't keep secrets. 
  9. Make sure that all loose ends are tied up before the end.  There's nothing more frustrating than having unanswered questions.
  10. Keep your reader in mind at all times.
Do you have any tips to add to this list?


  1. Particularly in the case of the police detective, show the character's personal life and have them involved, at least peripherally, in other cases. One of the major challenges in solving cases in real life is that, unlike on tv, new cases never stop coming in, and homicide detectives, more than most, need the 'normalcy' of a personal life to counter the job.

    1. Very good points, Mike. Thank you. A life outside the job is important. Also you're so right. Crime doesn't stop so that the detective can solve his case in peace. Being involved in what's going on around him is a very good point.

  2. Good points Jill. Murder mysteries have certainly gotten popular again on TV with shows like NCIS and CSI. I especially like Castle, one where a successful mystery writer follows the detective whiles she unravels the cases he usually resolves...and gets mixed up in.

    A well written murder mystery has to hold the readers attention from beginning to end and you offer some good advice on how to accomplish that. Great Post!

    1. Thank you, Anna. I think it's a good idea to keep the reader in mind while writing murder mysteries. Looking at the mystery from the readers perspective, that is.
      I agree about the television mysteries. They are popular. I love a good mystery to solve!