by Annette Young
When writing a murder mystery story, you have to create far more than an engaging story, after all, your aim has to be to ensure that readers keep turning those pages, and to do so, you have to think about what they really need from your creative endeavours. When a potential reader chooses your book, they will be looking for a number of things – good characterisation, drama, a strong storyline and one written convincingly. They also want to be plunged into a mystery that grips them from the opening pages and where the drama escalates in a convincing way, and where the plot deepens through a series of revelations.
You must be able to write with confidence and to do so, you need to understand the plot inside and out, there’s no point trying to write a murder mystery unless you have a fair idea of who the victim will be and who the murderer is and of course, why. A reader will know if you are writing with distraction or if your words lead them on a stroll around the plot rather than to invite them, enticing them into the heart of the story.
You can’t cheat a reader. They have to feel confident that you are taken them on a guided journey that is vibrantly painted with words and one which is 3-dimensional so they can almost become a part of the story as it unfolds. Readers need to feel engaged. They need to care about the outcome but more, they need to care about why the character has died and why the murderer felt a need to end the victim’s life. There has to be a reason, even if it is that the killer is a psychopath who kills when the opportunity arises. While much can be left to the reader’s imagination, you have to reveal vital components to make sense of the storyline and to make the reader care.
It doesn’t matter whether your murder mystery is a psychological drama, a thriller or contains a gory sequence of murders that fills them with fear. The murder could take place in broad daylight or be one where death is claimed in the shadows. The ability to hook the reader’s attention lies with you. The best way to engage the reader is to make them feel, to engage their senses and emotions and immerse them in a story that transcends the human experience.
Enjoy this post? Read more on writing murder mysteries – Writing a Murder Mystery – Get Inside the Mind of the Victim
Want to read a good murder mystery?
by Annette J Young
A murder mystery story takes many forms. It requires forethought and careful planning to tie all the threads of an in-depth plot together. Each aspect is important. Many people focus on the murderer but what of the victim? You have to understand their importance within the story too. In my own novel, I decided that the victim would die right at the start of the book, my aim was to create impact and drama hooking the reader from the opening pages. Compassion for the victim and for those who were left behind were built into the story so that the reader could share the sense of disbelief and grief. In other novels, the reader follows the victim, sometimes growing to know these characters, unaware of their impending and untimely demise. When they have grown attached to the character, death creates shock and a sense of loss.
If you are planning to write a murder mystery, then careful planning is required. What do you want the reader to feel at the time of the death? Are you trying to shock them or to make them feel the loss of this character in a deep sense or, perhaps a mixture of the two? They may not feel an attachment to the victim, or, equally, the moment of death replays in their minds over and over. In addition to the reader’s needs, you must also consider how the victim feels before death. Are you weaving suspenseful situations around them? Are they being followed or watched from the shadows? Have you created tension and drama? If you can create an emotive game of cat and mouse, the reader will be hooked.
To write a good murder mystery, you must slip into the mind of the victim so to create beautifully written passages that evoke tragedy, fear and intensity. Imagine walking down an isolated and poorly lit road late one night. Your senses will be heightened as your eyes search the shadows for movement. Your ears will strain for the sound of someone stealthily creeping nearer and your mouth will become dry and you’ll swallow nervously, muscles tightening as you prepare to run if you need to.
A victim’s fear will grow if you play on the fears that we all experience. Imagine yourself in your house late one night, you are alone and suddenly, the lights are extinguished unexpectedly. As you peer into the darkness, you hear noises that are new and unknown. You can’t decipher them, is it a door opening as an intruder enters your home? Perhaps you hear soft footsteps on the stairs and the creaking of a loose floorboard. If you can imagine yourself in these situations, you’ll tap into the sensation of fear and be able to relay all the tension and suspense to the reader.
When you write a murder mystery, you need a good understanding of the plot and how the characters all play an integral part. Think of them as actors learning their lines moving across the stage at your direction. You are creating a world in which one or more of your characters experiences an unnatural and even painful death. Don’t just write that they have been murdered, live it, breathe in the tension and feel the fear if you wish the reader to do the same.
Do you want to write a murder mystery? Take a look at this blog post: Step Inside the Mind of a Killer
When I started writing my murder mystery book – Who Killed September Falls? I embarked upon a crazy challenge to complete it within one month and while this was a self-inflicted deadline, I didn’t want to lose the essence of it being a good novel either. My preparation was to focus on the characters and to have a fair idea of the plot. For me, the characters are pretty much the most important aspect of any book; I knew that they would have to drive the plot forward and that some aspects of my story might change as a result. So I was prepared to be flexible and to amend sections as I wrote, if that was needed.
I was aware that I had to consider the needs of the reader too, engaging them meant creating vivid scenes and planting strategic hooks that would keep them turning the pages. I wasn’t just writing for my own pleasure, but for the reader too. Creating powerful characters is important irrespective of genre and for me, it was vital that I created a powerful and unbreakable connection between Arianne and September.
For those who have not read the book, it starts with the murder of September Falls, so the plot unfolds with her best friend Arianne Tawnison desperate to find out more about the senseless killing so that she can come to terms with it. As with any fatal crime, those that are left behind experience their own sense of hell and Arianne could not move on after the death of her childhood friend. There were too many unanswered questions and a killer still on the loose.
My idea was that through the eyes of Arianne and other characters that had been closely linked to the victim, September’s personality and traits would come to life but often in conflicting terms. In real life, our perceptions of people and events change substantially. It made sense to me that Arianne would discover a great deal more about her friend following her death and from very different viewpoints. I was really keen that the reader would feel the connection between the two friends but also to experience the sense of bewilderment that must come from experiencing a tragic loss. Human emotion was the key to my connecting with the reader and because I was writing the story often with tears in my eyes, I wanted the readers to feel that rawness too.
So not only was it important to bring the emotion to life, but to also plant the seeds of doubt in the readers’ mind too. This meant really getting to know my characters and understanding what made them tick. I planted little red herrings that I hoped would make the reader think and would lead them astray but I also planted genuine clues. I wanted to create the mystery and tension and suspicion that would occur if you are investigating a dangerous situation. Arianne knew that she was taking risks but having received and read the personal journal that September had sent to her just days before her death, it was as if her friend was directing her from beyond the grave.
So, I had characters that interacted and that forced the story forward, I had emotion and I had intrigue and mystery and I also had a fairly grisly murder to start the whole thing off. I was pleased with the novel and its subsequent success, and there is nothing like receiving personal feedback as to how the story had gripped those who read it. I learned a great deal from the process and I will take a slightly different approach with my next murder mystery book – the sequel Who Killed Kendra Laine? But the essence will always remain with character development.
Watch the book trailer here.
Check out the trailer for Who Killed September Falls by editor/author Annette Young.