How Mystery Writers Think

How writers develop a story

Writers can get ideas from the real world. Something they read, or hear, or see.

And to brainstorm a story, some fiction writers ask, “What if?”

For example, what if the DNA of dinosaurs could be used to regenerate the ancient beasts? (Jurassic Park)

After that, a multitude of questions follow, trying to answer “What happens next?”

But it can’t be the first answer – that’s usually too common (and already used). Even the second or third idea might also be trite.

The search continues until the “never been written” idea sparks the writer’s drive to stay on the journey. A journey that can last months or years. Until every word is right and the writer types “The End”.

The mystery twist

Mystery writers ask those same questions. But there’s always a twist. An exploration of the conspiracy behind the event.

It’s in our nature. We can’t help ourselves.

It isn’t just the love letter that wasn’t delivered and was discovered in an attic trunk 60 years later. It’s…

— Why wasn’t the letter delivered?

— Did somebody kill the postal carrier and steal the letter because they didn’t want it delivered?

— Was the killer a man who loved the girl who should have received the letter (from another beau)?

— And what if he not only killed the postal carrier, but his rival — the one who wrote the letter in the first place?

— And what if the killer hid the letter in the trunk and would visit it once a year, on the day he had killed his rival — just so he could enjoy the fact that he’d gotten away with it? While the girl, the one he convinced to be his wife, blissfully played with their children downstairs?

— What happens when the killer dies a natural death, and his loving wife and family find the letter? Along with a journal – where the only entries were made annually on the anniversary he killed the rival. Entries that reveal the delight of the killer at getting the girl he loved. And never regretting having to kill to marry her.

What’s next?

But that’s just an idea. It may or may not be viable. Where would the story begin?

— Would it start at the beginning with the killer striking the postal carrier?

— Or later, once the killer had his family and he is in the attic?

— Maybe when the family discovers the letter and journal after the killer dies?

OR…

Perhaps the story should begin ten years before the killer dies, with the following sentence:

“I was fourteen years old the day I found my grandfather’s journal. The journal where he revealed he killed two people. I made two decisions that day. Never go near him again. And become a cop — so I could bring him to justice.”

I’m not sure if this simple brainstorming will even result in a story worth telling. But that’s the way it is with every idea. After the idea comes the hard work to figure out characters, plot points, character arc, and all the other elements.

The real world

The twists and turns of a mystery writer’s mind can frighten some people. And attract the attention of law enforcement until a background check indicates the writer is harmless.

But to the mystery writer, it’s escape from the real world of murder and mayhem.

Into another full of murder and mayhem. A world that’s fun. 😉

Would you read the story? Where do you think it should start?

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Joni Vance is an award-winning author of fiction, essay, and poetry. She loves mystery, history, and how God reveals Himself every day.


May God reveal the mystery of His love in your life story.

2 thoughts on “How Mystery Writers Think

  1. It is a little scary where the mind of a mystery writer has to go. I love mysteries… as long as they don’t turn into gruesome stories that I wish I had never put into my head. One of my favorite Hallmark Mysteries is the Aurora Teagarden Mysteries series. They are clean, funny, and full of details that lead you chasing rabbit trails, until the real murderer is found out.

    • I agree. I don’t want to be in the mind of a killer or evil person. So my point of view characters won’t be the perpetrator. I like cozy mysteries as well, even though the one I’m working on is not a cozy. I have an idea that might turn into a cozy one day. We’ll see. Thanks for sharing!

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