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Mystery Writing Prompts

Instructor: Nicky Davis
Mystery fiction is crammed with plot twists, secrets, lies, detectives and death. Check out this selection of mystery writing prompts to help inspire your next thriller, and get some tips on building the suspense of whodunit!

Murder-Mystery Prompts

Surprise

Guests at a surprise party are startled when, instead of arriving at the party as planned, the ashes of the birthday boy are delivered with a note from his killer.

Repairs Needed

A busy family calls a repairman who discovers human bones jamming their garbage disposal.

In The Lab

A simple 'scientific research' study goes awry, leaving all the subjects dead… except for one.

You're Invited

A funeral is held and the guests arrive, only to discover that there's no one dead… yet.

Psychological Thriller Prompts

Unseen

A student meets a new friend at school, but somehow no one else at the school has ever seen or met this new friend.

Lost

Your character wakes up by the side of a freeway she's never seen before, in a new state, with an unknown phone number written on her wrist.

Return to Sender

Your character suddenly begins to receive detailed letters from his parents, who died four years ago.

Dearly Departed

One morning your character awakens to find her name listed in the obituary column of the newspaper.

Eight Tips for Better Mystery Writing

So you've picked a prompt that peaked your interest… and now what? Mystery is an intricate genre, built on a web of loopholes and lies. Here are some tips to guide your writing and keep you on track as you line up your suspects and craft your thriller.

1. Keep the crime intriguing

No answer in mystery fiction should be easily won. Your readers will have more fun, and so will you, if your criminal is a mastermind. And don't be afraid to get wild and creative with their tactics, so long as you can explain how they managed to pull it off.

2. Remember that every character lies

Of course the red-handed criminal is going to lie, but so should everyone else. In a mystery, you want as many guilty looking faces as you can round up, so give all your characters a dirty little secret.

3. Make an outline

In the midst of all the lies, alibis, and deceit, you'll want to have a clear outline of what the true story is, where it's headed, and who is guilty of what. This way you won't lose track of the truth as you're writing, even if your reader does.

4. Your detective shouldn't be perfect

Even the brilliant Sherlock Holmes had severe weaknesses. It's perfectly fine for your sleuth to be a genius, but they should also have handicaps that keep them from easily and tidily solving the case.

5. Don't let backstory weigh you down

It's important to know the backstory of each character yourself, but every detail you know doesn't have to go into the story. When you get too caught up in the backstory, you'll lose sight of the mystery that's happening in the present.

6. Understand the world of your story

If you're writing in a fantasy world, make sure it's clear to the reader what the rules of that new world are, so that you don't have characters investigating a crime in a world where anything goes.

7. Know your motives

Though it shouldn't be obvious to anyone else, you should know who did it and why from the beginning. Then give your other suspects motives that are equally viable, so your readers can't see the forest for the trees.

8. Mix up your clues

You'll want an even distribution of real clues, and misleading clues or 'red herrings' as they're sometimes called. It doesn't have to be anything obvious, but the reader should get the feeling that they're working out a puzzle alongside your sleuth.

Online Writing Resources

With your brain brimming with ideas for your story, you're ready to get started! Study.com has a variety of resources to provide support during the writing process. The materials below feature short and entertaining videos to help you focus your skills and practice quizzes you can take to solidify your understanding.

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