…as an author, of course.
You have thought of the perfect crime. The who, what, why, and when are all planned out. But, you now stand at the precipice. Before you is a single blinking cursor. How do you write out the perfect crime so that your audience is engaged, your story has suspense, yet everything seems to fit together perfectly at the end?
While sometimes, you can lay out the entire crime right off the bat, most likely, it will unfold throughout the story. And as each piece comes together, the reader will be drawn further into the story desperately wondering what or who has done it. Or, the audience will grow bored or figure out your ending way too early.
These five tips can help your story become an edge of your seat, read all night, thrilling tale.
1. Have TWO red herrings.
There has to be someone the audience (or your characters) initially believe to have committed the crime. But, since it’s the early stages, audiences will know that this can’t be the perp. Therefore, you need a second person who you can hint at being the criminal or mastermind (but isn’t). Start small, but build as the novel goes on. This way, clever readers who figure out that the first red herring isn’t the real perpetrator can get caught by the second and the end can still be a surprise.
2. Tell us who did it early.
Put an important detail to the crime in the first chapters. Don’t make it obvious that it’s important. It can be a throwaway detail. Something a character sees or someone who bumps into the main character. But put it early so that we can look back and see it but not realize in the moment that it’s critical.
3. Make it make sense.
This one should seem obvious but it’s an easy one to miss. You know the whole story as the writer, but the audience doesn’t. They can get lost or be missing details that will help them fully understand. You want to slowly sprinkle details in to keep audiences guessing but have the audiences begin to put the pieces together AND understand the whole story by the end. It can be helpful to write the end first so you know all the details first.
4. Witnesses are not always reliable.
Many crimes hinge on a witness. Witnessing a crime can be traumatic or happen extremely quickly. So, witnesses can often be incorrect or only remember a few details. You can use this to your advantage and play with the audience’s expectations. While your witness thinks it was one thing, it may very easily be another. It’s a great way to add confusion in but make sure you hint or explicitly state at some point that the witness is unreliable or else it will simply feel contradictory.
5. Do the research.
Mystery readers know their stuff. So if you have forensics, crime scenes, police, or other procedural things, research what it really looks like. Your search history might begin to look a little shady. but if someone’s killed by a gunshot, you should know what type of gun, what the entry and exit wounds look like, what blood splatter patterns are common. If you can’t, you’ll take away from your story.
Crime is a complex beast and planning a perfect one is difficult. Make sure you fully understand what crime is taking place before you begin to write about it. But, with these ways to incorporate even more suspense into your tangled web of mystery, you’ll have a story that will make readers unable to stop reading until it’s finished.
Are you looking to get started on your mystery novel, but the idea isn’t quite there yet? Check out my Story Prompt Journal made specifically for mystery writers. You’ll find 15 unique, mystery themed prompts to help get the creative juices flowing in a beautifully laid out journal.
Have any writing specific questions you want answered by The Wordsmith’s Pen? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org today!