Writing Mysteries

Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, some of the most iconic characters come from mystery stories. Let’s continue to explore other genres and take a look at mysteries today.

  • Just as with horror, building a suspenseful mood is key to keeping those pages turning. Every description of the setting and more should build up the atmosphere and create a sense of urgency and suspense. Build up the mystery of the situation and the characters.
  • Use red herrings. Red herrings are clues which mislead or distract the reader from who really did it. You don’t want to lie to your reader or break their trust in you, but keep them guessing who-dunnit ‘til the very end. Red herrings help to build tension and make your story a page turner. Whether this is a suspicious character, an object that seems to have a lot of significance, or a clue planted deliberately to lead everyone down the wrong trail, red herrings add to your mystery.
  • Stay away from convoluted plots. Your reader should be asking questions, but one of these questions shouldn’t be “really?” Unexpected thing can happen, but make sure your story is believable on a basic level and real to your reader. Oftentimes, simple is best when it comes to plotting. Don’t lose your reader by going over the top.
  • Focus on the ending and make it satisfying. You want to give your reader an a-ha moment when you finally reveal who did it and why. The tension, suspense, and mood of the story all builds to the big ending, so don’t disappoint with a lackluster reveal or a predictable outcome. Use red herrings to your advantage to keep your readers guessing all the way to the end.
  • Build great characters. Good writing is built with great characters. They bring your story world to life. You want a sleuth to be unique and relatable and your supporting characters to defy stereotypes and clichés. Make them fully fleshed-out and intriguing. And make them stand out. Don’t just write another Sherlock Holmes. Make your characters new and original.
  • Plant your clues throughout your story to truly make your ending satisfying. Maybe there are even clues your sleuth didn’t pick up on at first. Maybe they were focused on the red herrings instead.
  • Avoid clichés. This could be anything from a thunderstorm to set the mood to an overdone character to ten people locked in a mansion. Be original and make the story truly yours.

What are your tips for writing mysteries? Share below and happy sleuthing!


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Tips for Writing Horror

So often when we write, we stick to our preferred and known genre, but I was challenged this week to write a spooky story for my writing group and I found it really enjoyable. It got me thinking about horror and other genres I don’t commonly write. So I thought we could explore tips for how to write different genres, starting with horror today. So what makes a good horror story?

  • Horror is all about setting the right atmosphere for scary and bad things to happen. Each description must build up an eerie and unnatural world your main character has found herself in. Create the right tone for each scene and use all five senses to do so.
  • Use visceral reactions to connect the reader to what the character is experiencing. Don’t say he’s afraid, show him breaking out into a cold sweat, the hairs rising on end on his arm, and his heart pounding in his ears as he approaches the dark hallway.
  • Get the reader to care about your character before something happens to them. You want your reader invested, so they can really feel the horror of the situation. Make your character flawed and relatable.
  • Use cause and effect. Have your character make bad decisions and then have to deal with the consequences. Horror shares ties with tragedies where the main character has a fatal flaw that leads to their downfall. Show your character making mistakes and dealing with what happens next.
  • Use active language. Strong verbs, concrete nouns, and no passive voice. Passive voice is where the object of the sentence becomes the subject. So we have “The ball was thrown by Jon” instead of “Jon threw the ball.” But passive voice weakens your writing and slows your pacing down. Avoid it.
  • It’s especially important to show, don’t tell. We want to immerse the reader into each creepy scene to build the tension and suspense and get their hearts racing. Don’t pull them out of the scene by telling.
  • Give your beasties a good motivation for their actions. The scariest monsters are the ones that make the most sense. Add depth and realism to your story by giving the malevolent force a good reason why they’re doing what they’re doing.
  • Read widely in the genre. Whether that’s paranormal or psychological horror, see what other writers are doing right—or wrong—to get a good idea of what works and what doesn’t. Pay attention to their descriptions and cause and effect sequences.
  • Show the stakes. What happens if evil wins the day? Amp up your suspense by making clear what the stakes are.
  • Have a glimmer of hope. That doesn’t mean hope has to win out—remember horror is based of tragedy? But great horror allows the character to come oh so close to hope. Give your reader something to question and keep them reading until the end.
  • You must still write a good story. It’s not just about gore and screams. Your reader will expect a good tale, well-developed characters, and a convincing plot. Make it real. Make it believable.

I suggest trying new genres and if you want to try horror, these tips are a great place to start. What are your favorite tips for writing horror? Share below and happy writing!


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