1. First, read widely. It will help you become a better writer. That’s my number one tip.
2. Read lots of mystery novels. Okay, does this sound a little simplistic? It’s still good advice. There are many subdivisions in this particular genre. There are also many cross-genre categories as well. So you better like reading mysteries or don’t even think to write one.
3. In a mystery novel, your main protagonist is the detective. He or she should be introduced early. Avoid providing too much back story. Keep the plot moving along. Characters should be developed through what they say, do and think. Hints to background make characters more interesting and mysterious. Don’t give away too much too soon.
4. Make certain your suspects are introduced early as well and appear a number of times throughout your novel. They need development too.
5. It’s suggested that the crime be a murder and be introduced in the first three chapters to hook the reader. Study the early novels of writers like John Grisham. He has had a talent for hooking readers immediately with strong beginnings.
6. The crime needs to be presented in a believable manner. This doesn’t necessarily mean excessive gore. However, you should become familiar with police procedures for the sake of authenticity even if you are not writing a police procedural. When weapons are used, research them so you don’t make errors. Agents and editors who specialize in crime fiction will immediately brand you as an amateur and reject your work if your writing is inaccurate.
7. Don’t reveal your perp before the denouement or close to it if you’re writing a whodunit.
8. If you are writing a romantic mystery novel, make certain that the love story plot is of secondary importance. Don’t allow the romance to overpower the mystery. Likewise, if you’re writing romantic suspense, be aware that the romance is of more consequence than the mystery. In this case, end with the love story resolved.
9. Create well-rounded characters. Who are they? What is their motivation? What do they look like? What’s distinctive about their speech patterns and mannerisms? Keep a notebook delineating each character in the novel. Select names with care. They should be appropriate for the characters.
10. Setting is important in the mystery or suspense novel. Choose a place you know something about. Maybe you’ve lived there. Maybe you only visited. But you need some sort of association because the place must have an aura of reality to be believable. My Kim Reynolds mysteries are set in Central New Jersey because that’s where I lived for most of my life. THE BAD WIFE is a good example: This 4th Kim Reynolds mystery novel is now a free read for Kindle Unlimited Subscribers.
11. Your plot needs to have pacing. Watch out for midsection drag! That’s a common problem with many novels. Your book must never become dull or predictable. How to avoid this problem? Dialogue should be clever and entertaining, never wooden. Mysteries should be page-turners even if they’re not suspense thrillers. Add another murder. Place your detective in danger or your heroine in jeopardy. Even if you’re writing a cozy, there’s no excuse for being boring. A little humor enlivens the story. I also suggest doing at least a rough outline. You can always make changes as needed, but you should have a working outline. I’ve done this with every one of my mystery novels. It makes for crisper writing.
12. Every novel needs a theme, a unifying idea that has significance. It should be inferred rather than stated directly. However, hints of it can be given in the dialog between main characters.
13. Write the unique novel only you can write. Observe the conventions of the genre without copying or plagiarizing the work of others.
14. Discipline yourself to spend a certain amount of time writing each day. Do not allow excuses. Finish your novel. Then put it away for a few months. Don’t just write your novel, edit it. The hard part has come, put on your editor eyeglasses and truly see your work. No doubt you will find many errors. Correct them.
15. When you finally begin submitting your novel to agents and editors, expect rejection. If they are generous enough to make suggestions for change, pay attention. Publishing is a tough business. Don’t get discouraged.
Multiple award-winning author, Jacqueline Seewald, has taught creative, expository and technical writing at Rutgers University as well as high school English. She also worked as both an academic librarian and an educational media specialist. Seventeen of her books of fiction have been published to critical praise including books for adults, teens and children. THE INHERITANCE, a romantic mystery, is her latest novel. Her short stories, poems, essays, reviews and articles have appeared in hundreds of diverse publications and numerous anthologies such as: THE WRITER, L.A. TIMES, READER’S DIGEST, PEDESTAL, SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY MAGAZINE, OVER MY DEAD BODY!, GUMSHOE REVIEW, THE MYSTERY MEGAPACK, LIBRARY JOURNAL, PUBLISHERS WEEKLY and THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR. She’s also an amateur landscape artist and enjoys listening to blue grass music. She loves hearing from readers. Her writer’s blog can be found at: http://jacquelineseewald.blogspot.com
Jacqueline Seewald’s latest novel THE INHERITANCE was recently published. You can find out about it on amazon.com. Also available from Barnes & Noble, Kobo, IPGBook.com as well as many other booksellers.
Comments and questions welcome!