Sharon Dunn writes humorous whodunits. Her Bargain Hunter mystery series combines two things she loves: the hunt for a good deal and fun follow-the-clues mysteries. You can read more about Sharon’s books at www.sharondunnbooks.com. She is currently at work on a romantic suspense for Steeple Hill.
Sharon Dunn’s Five Quick Tips for Writing Better Mysteries
Start your story as close to the crime as possible.
If the needs of the story make it impossible to start with the crime, there should be at least the threat of a crime or the early stages of one being set up in the first chapter. My first Bargain Hunter mystery, Death of a Garage Sale Newbie, begins with a woman leaving a cryptic message on her friend’s answering machine in which she says she has discovered something dangerous from the past and that she is afraid. In later chapters, the woman who made the phone call disappears and is ultimately found murdered.
2. Create false
suspects by giving every important character a secret.
3. Plot twists often
rise out the greater crime and the lesser crime.
The important thing in creating the twist is to lay the ground work so that when the real killer is caught, the reader hits her forehead with the heel of her hand and says, “I should have seen that.” One of the tricks I use in creating the plot twist is to write the rough draft of the novel as though Suspect A is guilty. In the rewrite, I will look back to see which other character had the means, motive, and opportunity to commit the crime, or with some revision could have had the means, motive and opportunity. In the rewrite, Suspect B becomes the guilty party.
Remember the rule of
A sleuth who has a personal stake in solving the crime makes for a more
For an amateur sleuth, having a personal stake is almost a necessity. In my first Bargain Hunters mystery, the personal stake for the head Bargain Hunter Ginger was that her best friend is murdered and the police are willing to write it off as an accident. In book two in that series, Death of a Six Foot Teddy Bear, Ginger is a suspect in the crime. In Sue Grafton’s T is for Trespass P.I. Kinsey Millhone finds herself solving an identity theft case because her neighbor, the closest person she has to family, is one of the affected victims.