Since I've been working on a middle-grade mystery book lately I've been studying up on how to write an effective mystery. I know not everyone out there reading this blog writes mysteries, but I thought someone might find this helpful. So for the next few weeks, Tuesday is going to be Mystery Central.
The first thing I wanted to share is basically my Mystery Bible. One of my writing friends passed this mystery structure along to me a few years ago. I have no idea where it came from originally (but I did find a more detailed list here), so I can't give credit where credit is due, but whoever compiled this thank you! This small piece of paper has been like a life saver and a very good starting point when I'm planning a mystery.
Because starting a mystery without having a plan, is somewhat pointless to me. Some books you can get away with without knowing where the book is going, but that is very difficult to do in a mystery. You kind of have to know "who did it" and "why" otherwise you can't lay the groundwork for the sleuth or the reader to solve the crime.
Classic Mystery Structure
An “act” is traditionally 3-5 chapters long (but can be as long or as short as it needs to be for the story.)
Introduce the crime
- Disclose the crime/mystery to be solved.
- Initial clues revealed.
- Set the sleuth on the path toward solving the mystery.
- Something should occur which makes the reader know that the crime is more complicated than initially suspected.
Direct the investigation toward a conclusion that later proves to be erroneous
- Reveal facts about suspects
- Flight or disappearance of one or more suspects
- Investigation should broaden to put suspicion on other characters
- Develop a sense of urgency.
- Make clear the sleuth has a personal stake in the outcome (his own life may be in danger).
- The sleuth comes to an erroneous conclusion about the crime
Change of focus and scope of the investigation. This is the pivotal point in the story as it becomes evident that the sleuth was on the wrong track
- Something unexpected, such as the appearance of a second body, the death of a major suspect, or discovery of evidence that clears the most likely suspect. The story must take a new direction.
- The sleuth reviews the facts of the investigation.
- The solution seems to be impossible. Attempts to solve the crime have stymied the sleuth. Misinterpretation of clues or mistaken conclusions have lead her in t he wrong direction, and logic must be applied to force a new way of looking at the clues,
- Review of chain of events that provoked the crime.
- The crucial evidence is something overlooked in Act I, which appeared to have little consequence at the time it was first disclosed. That evidence takes on a new light with information disclosed in Act II. The solution remains undisclosed to the reader.
- Based on what he or she now knows, the sleuth must seek positive proof of the as-yet undisclosed solution.
- The climax: dramatic confrontation between the sleuth and the perpetrator: the sleuth prevails.
- Resolution: Revelation of clues and deductive process that lead to the solution.
--Emily, Miss Querylicious