Creative and Memoir Writing March 1, 2023

Carol Brennan King

We have not had a class focused on Mystery writing, so thanks to a favorite of mine, K.M. Weiland, we have some good material to talk about.

First, the genre of mystery can be divided into four categories:

  1. Thriller: where the focus is on the danger the characters face as they search for a solution to the mystery(s) in the story. Note that a thriller may have more than one mystery to be solved before the resolution of the story.
  2. Procedural: where the protagonist makes use of a variety of techniques to solve the mystery. CSI is a great example for this type of mystery.
  3. The Puzzle or Whodunit: where the focus is on solving the puzzle. Think Sherlock Holmes or one of the other more cerebral television mysteries.
  4. Crime: In this type of mystery, both sides, the law and the villain, are shown, as the reader watches the trail to solving the murder or other kind of serious law-breaking.

Note that there are also four subgenres of mystery and crime fiction:

  1. Detective novels where the focus is on the detective. Think through the myriad of these we see on television or the many series of detective books.
  2. Cozy mysteries contain no sex, violence, or profanity. The focus in these books is on the use of intellect as opposed to police procedures. Think Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, or Elizabeth Daly. Check out the Hallmark cozies on television.
  3. Police Procedural – see above when the focus is on a member of the police force.
  4. Finally, the “Caper” stories where the story is told from the point of view of the criminal rather than those pursuing the bad guy(s).
  5. You also can find historical and romantic mysteries.

Go to  for more information.

Then we talked about the nitty-gritty of how to write the mystery by looking at the structure.

  1. The Hook. Most mysteries open immediately with a dead body or the scene where some other crime than is now to be explored. It may also begin with what we call foreshadowing or where a clue is planted to be later deciphered in order to solve the crime.
  2. Inciting Event. This is nothing new and appears in much literature. In mysteries, the murder, for instance, may have happened earlier, and the scene opens with the discovery. However, the scene may open in media res – or in the middle of things.
  3. First Plot Point: The stakes become personal or irrevocable to the protagonist, whether physical or emotional.
  4. First Pinch Point: Pinch points emphasize the antagonist’s threat and what is at stake for the main characters.
  5. Midpoint: or Second plot point. It is also considered the moment of truth. The protagonist discovers the biggest clue yet, but his or her understanding of the truth is not yet complete or clear.
  6. Second Pinch Point: The tension increases, and the stakes rise. Something may happen that obstructs the investigation or seems to put the culprit out of reach.
  7. Third Plot Point: This is that moment when it may appear that all is lost. Another crime may be committed here, as significant as the original crime. The detective or protagonist may doubt of his own ability to resolve the situation.
  8. Climax: The protagonist will recognize and come face-to-face with the antagonist. It can be exciting and violent or be that scene where the hero brings all of the suspects into one room and shows his rationale for how he identified the villain.
  9. Resolution: If the story opens with a frame of the protagonist’s personal life, the Resolution will bring that full circle. If not, there may be a scene where the victims of the crime have an opportunity to find a cathartic moment.

My thanks to K.M. Weiland for her work coming up with this outline.

Check out her Apple podcast at Ep.617: Genre Tips: How to write Mystery for more.

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