A Murder Mystery Formula: #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop

It’s time again for my contribution to this month’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop where dozens of  writers share their thoughts and experiences.  Many thanks to Raimey Gallant for organizing.  I encourage you to check out the posts of other writers by clicking on the icon at the bottom.

My two recent novels are murder mysteries, both set in my home state of North Carolina.  In the ten years I’ve been writing, they’re my favorite creations.  The stories and characters develop naturally, with a good blend of mystery, suspense, and action.  AT THE RIVER’ S EDGE was published in August 2018 and BUTCHER ROAD will be released June 1st on Amazon.

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I’ve learned there’s a formula for writing mystery novels. The elements within this formula are essential to producing a quality mystery and allow flexibility in creating a level of intensity, ranging from cozy to full-blown murder mysteries.

Cozy mysteries may revolve around something other than a murder, and the sleuths are likely to be amateurs or even everyday people. Murder mysteries are more intense, with an unsolved killing at the center of the story. The life-threatening investigations are carried out by law enforcement professionals.

Cozy or intense, all mysteries have common elements. The following list is composed from what other mystery writers consider critical to producing a good murder mystery.  I think it’s a good formula to follow.

  • The mystery (murder) needs to occur early in the novel.
  • Clues are not hidden from readers and can be realized in retrospect.
  • A few, but not too many, suspects are provided.
  • Suspense and mystery build throughout the novel.
  • The solution to the mystery should feel like realization, not revelation.
  • Sleuths/investigators should always be compelling and usually likable.
  • Sex/language/violence need to be kept within the context of the story and not overused.
  • The solution occurs toward the end, making readers want to come back.

I kept this list in mind as I wrote my recent mystery novels, and then tested it again after the first drafts were completed.

Both mysteries start with an unsolved murder. Subtle clues build from the first chapter in both books and in plain view of the readers. Suspects are introduced early and not ruled out until the end.

The male and female sleuths in both stories are young, likable couples. In AT THE RIVER’S EDGE, they’re a hardware store merchant and the granddaughter of a moonshiner. In BUTCHER ROAD, they’re detectives. There is sexual tension but no sex in either novel. Profanity is kept to a low level and always within the context of the dialogue. In both novels, the mystery isn’t solved until the very end.

I’ll close with advice from Mickey Spillane, acclaimed crime novelist from the 1950s and 60s.  “Nobody reads a mystery to get to the middle. They read it to get to the end. If it’s a letdown, they won’t buy another. The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book.”

I hope after reading AT THE RIVER’S EDGE the last page will direct you to BUTCHER ROAD.

Learn more about AT THE RIVER’S EDGE and BUTCHER ROAD by clicking HERE.

Thanks for stopping by my blog.  Please check out what other writers participating in this month’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop have to say by clicking HERE.

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12 thoughts on “A Murder Mystery Formula: #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop

  1. Ronel Janse van Vuuren

    “The first page sells that book. The last page sells your next book.” My favourite quote 🙂 Maybe I’ll try writing a mystery for fun…

    Ronel visiting on Author Toolbox day: The One…


  2. I like reading mysteries, and have attempted to write mystery stories.

    I have found that in writing, there should be a definite method of presenting your story so the readers would be satisfied with it – either it be with the clues, or with the final reveal.

    Thanks for the tips.

    Liked by 1 person

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