Tips for Writing a Mystery and a Series

Tips for Writing a Mystery

First, you need to decide exactly what type mystery you are planning to write. Hopefully you’ve read enough crime novels (seems to be the preferred name for the genre these days) to know what kind of novel you are going to write. To name a few: the private eye novel, amateur detective, usually someone with an interesting or unusual profession, can be hard-boiled or a cozy, the police procedural, romantic suspense, woman in jeopardy (think Mary Higgins Clark), historical mysteries–can be a combination of any of the above, thriller, when an innocent becomes involved, either by accident or coincidence, in dangerous events beyond his or her control (think Alfred Hitchcock movies), suspense, when the protagonist is in a constant and increasing state of danger.

Mysteries of earlier times were more interested in the hero solving the crime, now are as interested in the emotional impact of the crime of the hero and his or her private life. You have to create a credible protagonist to help the reader suspend disbelief. Though you must know the back story of your characters, you don’t necessarily have to tell it all. Bits and pieces should come out–maybe internally. Don’t lump it all together in one place. Don’t forget the villains–they should have history and issues also.

Here’s a check list of what you need to know about the book you’re going to write:

The Crime
Scene of the Crime
Suspects and Motives
Where everyone was at the time of the murder; alibis.
Conflict that led to the crime
Conflict that follows the crime and leads to the solution.
Climax, the emotional high point of the novel.
Solution or resolution

Remember it’s not necessary to only write about what you know, but what you don’t know, you need to find out about.

Use your imagination, create unusual characters and interesting settings, either real or ones you’ve made up.

Begin with a bang. Some authors say to start with a murder on the first page. Not really necessary, as long as you engage the reader immediately.

Once you’ve finished, print the manuscript out and go over it carefully. Make sure you tied up the loose ends and things progress in a logical manner. After that, have someone else edited it for you, someone who knows how to edit–preferably someone who reads and understands the mystery genre.

And yes, you can do something different as long as it works. My latest book, No Sanctuary, is a police procedural, but there are several crimes in the book that must be solved. In this particular series, I wanted to show how the job affects the family and family life affects the job.

No Sanctuary is authored by F. M. Meredith, a.k.a. Marilyn Meredith, available at and

On Writing the Mystery Series

When writing a mystery series it’s necessary to keep track of a lot:

The ongoing characters, simple things like how they look, but also the more complicated ones, like what has affected them in the past to change them? How much are they going to age between each book?

The setting.

If it’s a real setting, you’ll need to keep checking for changes.

If it’s a fictional setting, that you stay true to what you’ve written in previous books.

For each new book, you should write it as though it is the only book. You want a new reader to not be put off because it’s part of a series and they don’t know enough about the characters or what’s going on to give the book a chance.

You’ll also need to describe the characters and the settings in a fresh  way, so that people who read the series don’t notice you’ve written the same thing you wrote in the last book.

You can keep track in a variety of ways:

On your computer

3X5 cards for each character and important things about the setting

A notebook with all the information.

Believe me, it’s too hard to remember without writing it down.

The good thing about writing a series is you already have a cast of characters that you really know.

Marilyn Meredith, author of the Deputy Tempe Crabtree series: Bears With Us, Mundania Press
and as
F.M. Meredith, author of the Rocky Bluff P.D. series: Angel Lost, Oak Tree Press, and coming soon, No Bells.


Patricia Gligor said…
Great post on tips for writing a mystery series.
I realized as I wrote my first mystery/suspense novel, "Mixed Messages," that I was constantly having to go back to check on small details I'd previously written. I needed a way to keep track of them so I created an outline, "Characters and Chronology," which listed physical and personality characteristics for each character, dates events took place, etc.
Then, when I wrote the sequel, "Unfinished Business," I had all of the information in one place and could add to it with new characters and material.

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